Monday, October 20, 2008

Cook Inlet beluga whales listed as endangered over Palin protests

Environment News Service: The Cook Inlet beluga whale population near Anchorage is in danger of extinction, and has been listed as an endangered species, federal fisheries regulators announced Friday. "In spite of protections already in place, Cook Inlet beluga whales are not recovering," said James Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service. Cook Inlet stretches 180 miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage.

Listing the Cook Inlet beluga whales means any federal agency that funds, authorizes, or carries out new projects or activities that may affect the whales in the area must first consult with NOAA's Fisheries Service to determine the potential effects on the whales. A federal action must not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.

The listing is going ahead over the objections of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who is also running for the office of vice president on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Senator John McCain. "The State of Alaska has had serious concerns about the low population of belugas in Cook Inlet for many years," Governor Palin said Friday. "However, we believe that this endangered listing is premature."

In August 2007, Governor Palin wrote to the Fisheries Service asking that the Cook Inlet belugas not be listed as endangered for economic reasons. "I am especially concerned that an unnecessary federal listing and designation of critical habitat would do serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of the Cook Inlet area," Palin wrote. "Hundreds of thousands of people who live in this area know that we are taking excellent care of the environment and habitat there."

"For example," she wrote, "annual salmon runs in recent years are higher than they were when the beluga population was larger, in the 1970s. This wouldn't be possible without effective conservation efforts."

NOAA is the source of this image of a beluga whale

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