Greenpeace and The Center for Biological Diversity 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 prohibitions.