Trump Administration Sued For Failing To Protect Imperiled Bearded & Ringed Seals’ Arctic Habitat In Alaska

Photos of Bearded seal from USFWS

Another day, another lawsuit filed in response to the Trump administration’s blatant disregard for wildlife and the growing list of circumstances that threaten their existence, such as climate change.

Recently, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to designate critical habitat in Alaska for two ice-seal species. Both bearded and ringed seals are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because climate change is melting their Arctic sea-ice habitat.

“The home of ice seals are melting away while the Trump administration pretends global warming isn’t real. But the Endangered Species Act requires reality-based protection to prevent extinction,” Emily Jeffers, a staff attorney with the Center, said in a statement. “Ringed and bearded seals are threatened by an Arctic that’s heating up at twice the global rate. They need and deserve our help.”

Separate oil-industry challenges to protections for bearded seals and ringed seals were rejected by the federal courts last year. But the Trump administration has not taken the legally required steps to protect their habitat. The Center first petitioned to protect both species in 2008, and the Obama administration listed them in 2012.

Ice seals are vulnerable to oil spills and habitat damage caused by climate change. Federally protected critical habitat of plants and animals are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without it, a Center study has found. Designating critical habitat for the seals does not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska Natives.

Bearded seals, known for their mustachioed appearance and elaborate courtship songs, give birth and nurse their pups on pack ice. The rapid loss of that ice jeopardizes their ability to rear their young and is lowering the abundance of the seals’ food on their shallow foraging grounds in the Bering Sea.

Ringed seals, which are covered in dark spots surrounded by light gray rings, give birth in snow caves built on top of the sea ice. Global warming is reducing the amount of snowpack there, causing caves to collapse and leaving pups vulnerable to death by freezing or from predators.

“Arctic sea ice, polar bears and ice seals are all declining together,” continued Jeffers. “We need to quickly reduce our fossil fuel dependence to save them and this important region.”

To prevent the loss of the seals’ sea-ice habitat, the federal government has the authority and duty under the Act to address carbon pollution. Critical habitat protection ensures that all federal actions in the Arctic, such as those that permit oil and gas development and seismic surveys, avoid damaging areas essential to the species’ survival. Heightened protections will help existing habitat be more resilient over a longer period as the world works toward climate change solutions.

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