SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace today filed suit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for denying necessary protections under the Endangered Species Act for the ribbon seal despite clear scientific evidence that the species is threatened by global warming. The ribbon seal, an ice-dependent species of the Bering, Chukchi, and Okhotsk seas off Alaska and Russia, is threatened by global warming and the consequent loss of its sea-ice habitat, as well as recent decisions to open its habitat to oil development.
"The science is clear that global warming is threatening the
ribbon seal with extinction," said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the
Center for Biological Diversity. "The National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration cannot take a head-in-the-sand approach
to global warming while Arctic species like the ribbon seal slide
In the waning days of the Bush administration, the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded that the ribbon
seal did not warrant Endangered Species Act protection because
sufficient sea ice would supposedly remain in the seal's habitat
for the species to survive at least until mid-century. The agency's
conclusions, however, ignored numerous studies by independent
scientists and were not supported by its own data, which show that
sea-ice extent in the seal's breeding range in the northern Bering
Sea will decline significantly during the time of year the seals
give birth and rear their young.
"The Bering Sea is changing more rapidly due to global warming
than just about any place on the planet," said George Pletnikoff, a
senior oceans campaigner with Greenpeace who grew up on St. George
Island in the Bering Sea. "This is Ground Zero. Federal agencies
need to act as if there is life outside 'the Beltway' and
acknowledge the science, or there won't be a future for the ribbon
seal or any of us."
In March 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity and
Greenpeace sent Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the new head of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Obama
administration, a formal notice of intent to sue that described in
detail the legal and scientific deficiencies of the agency's ribbon
seal decision and asked the agency to revisit the flawed decision.
To date the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has not
responded to the notice letter.
Last month, over the objections of conservation groups, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an
"incidental harassment authorization" under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act to Shell Offshore, allowing the oil company to
harass ribbon seals and other marine mammals while exploring for
oil in the Chukchi Sea. The Obama administration is also actively
defending in court several Bush-era decisions to open up the ribbon
seal's habitat for oil development.
"There may be a new captain at the helm, but the federal
government is still steering wildlife management in the Arctic on a
course for extinction," added Wolf.
Oil and gas development, shipping, and greenhouse gas emissions
affecting the Arctic would be subject to greater regulation under
the Endangered Species Act if the ribbon seal is listed. Listing of
the ribbon seal would not affect subsistence harvest of the species
by Alaska natives, which is exempted from the law's
CONTACTS: Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415)
Jane Kochersperger, Greenpeace, (202) 680-3798
Notes: The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild lands. www.biologicaldiversity.org
Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organization with 2.7 million members worldwide that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions for the future.