RDC NEWS DIGEST
GROUP TO LITIGATE, CLAIMS INSUFFICIENT CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATIONS FOR EIDERS
The Center For Biological Diversity has given notice it intends to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for what it considers insufficient critical habitat designations for the Spectacled and Steller’s Eider. Both are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The environmental group claims the Service violated the ESA by excluding habitat essential to the recovery of the eiders. The group considers significant portions of the North Slope, Norton Sound, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and islands in the Bering Sea as key to the recovery of the eiders.
PROPOSED RULE PUBLISHED FOR LISTING NORTH PACIFIC RIGHT WHALE UNDER ENDANGERED ACT
The National Marine Fisheries Service has published its proposed rule to list the North Pacific right whale as an “endangered” species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service also intends to designate critical habitat for the whale.
RDC has opposed such a listing and the designation of critical habitat. However, RDC has maintained its support for a comprehensive management and recovery plan for the species, as well as additional studies.
The proposed rule stems from a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity to list both the North Pacific and the North Atlantic right whale. In the past, the group has put specific industries, including oil and gas, fishing and transportation, on notice that litigation will be initiated if critical habitat is designated.
Critical habitat designations for the Steller Sea Lion have resulted in litigation and delays in projects, as well as the closure of prime areas of the North Pacific to fishing.
RDC pointed out economic activities that are not impacting the recovery of the right whale will be negatively affected by critical habitat designations, if not stopped entirely, with no added benefit to the species.
BELUGA POPULATION ESTIMATE RELEASED
The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates the Cook Inlet beluga whale population has increased to 302, up from 278 in 2005. The whale is listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The agency is currently comparing available data on the belugas with requirements of the Endangered Species Act to determine whether the population meets the act’s listing criteria for either endangered or threatened. The finding is expected by April.
Additional information on the proposed listing is available at: www.afsc.noaa.gov/.
BRISTOL BAY MORATORIUM LIFTED
President George Bush has lifted the moratorium barring oil and gas development in federal waters off Bristol Bay. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne intends to include the North Aleutian Basin in the 2007-2012 five-year leasing plan, which also includes lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The North Aleutian Basin had been blocked from federal sales since 1990 under U.S. Senate appropriations rules, repealed in 2003, and under presidential moratorium.
The Bristol Bay basin contains similar geology to upper Cook Inlet and has a high potential for the discovery of natural gas. The federal government estimates the basin holds 753 million barrels of technically recoverable oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.
Since the federal moratorium was put in place, the salmon fishery in the region has declined, leading local communities to take a renewed interest in the potential for oil and gas development. While support for onshore development is strong, offshore development is more controversial, given the continuing importance of fishing to the region.
Governor Sarah Palin welcomed the news, noting development in the Bristol Bay region could provide the jobs, economic diversification and energy the people of this region need. However, she emphasized that development must occur in a way that does not harm the region’s rich salmon fishery.
CLIMATE CHANGE MEETING SET
RDC, the Municipality of Anchorage, ConocoPhillips, the EPA, the Nature Conservancy, Green Star and other organizations are teaming up to sponsor the Anchorage Business Roundtable on Climate Change February 15 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Egan Convention Center. The purpose of the meeting is to bring Anchorage businesses together with climate change and energy experts to highlight successful strategies to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. To register, go to www.akrdc.org.
AMEREF UPDATE: SOUTHWEST ALASKA PRESENTATIONS CONDUCTED ON CD AND KIT
AMEREF Executive Director Lee Clune recently returned from Southwest Alaska, specifically the Lower Kuskokwim and Lower Yukon school districts, where he visited Toksook Bay, Tuntatuliak, and Marshall to provide an overview and orientation of the AMEREF interactive CD and kit materials to staff and administration. Local officials have committed to further training in the near future.
In other news, an AMEREF course syllabus was recently approved and adopted by the UAA College of Education.
The Annual Coal Classic Golf Tournament in support of AMEREF will be held June 13 at the Anchorage Golf Course. Detailed information on the event and the AMEREF program is available at www.ameref.org.