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Group Plans To Sue Government For Seal Protection

June 6, 2009

An environmental advocacy group says it plans to file a lawsuit against the federal government in an attempt to force legislators to put in place additional protective measures for Arctic seals.

In a notice of intent sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week, the Center for Biological Diversity say it intends to sue the agency for missing a federally mandated deadline for a decision regarding whether ringed, bearded and spotted seals will be added to the endangered species list.

Federal law requires a 60-day letter of notification before a lawsuit can be filed against any government agency.

In May 2008, the environmental organization petitioned federal regulators to protect the threatened Arctic seals, whose natural habitat, sea ice, has been rapidly shrinking due to the effects of global warming and petroleum development.

Rebecca Noblin from the group’s branch in Anchorage, Alaska said there is no longer time to delay decisions because “an entire ecosystem is rapidly melting away.”

In September of last year, federal regulators determined that the three species of seals may deserve a spot on the Endangered Species Act list, but have since failed to reach a definitive decision on the issue.

Kaja Brix, director of protected resources for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau, Alaska, said that the federal agency intends to have a final decision sometime this summer.

“We have quite a bit of information to go through and we have not been able to do that in the timeline that was originally set out by the petition,” explained Brix. “It was just a matter of getting the analysis done in a way that would be comprehensive.”

All three seal species inhabit the waters of the Bering, Chukchi or Beaufort seas off coast of Alaska’s western and northern borders.

According to modern satellite imaging techniques, the amount of Arctic sea ice diminished last summer to the second-lowest level ever recorded since measurements began some 30 years ago. The record low, set in the summer 2007, was 1.65 million square miles. A number of climatologists across the world continue to offer climate change models predicting a continued fall in the amount of summer sea ice in the coming years.

Ringed seals constitute the primary source of food for polar bears, which were added to the list of threatened species last year.

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