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Bearded, ringed and spotted seals
USA Today, June 5, 2009

Environmentalists plan suit to protect ice seals
By Dan Joling, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — An environmental group plans to sue the federal government to force a decision on additional protections for Arctic seals.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in a notice of intent to sue sent this week to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that it missed a deadline required by law for an endangered species listing decision on ringed, bearded and spotted seals.

A 60-day notification letter is required before a lawsuit can be filed against the federal government.

The group in May 2008 petitioned to protect the Arctic seals because of threats to their habitat — sea ice — from global warming and petroleum development.

Rebecca Noblin in the group's Anchorage office said immediate action is needed because "an entire ecosystem is rapidly melting away."

In September, federal officials found that the three seal species may deserve Endangered Species Act protection.

Kaja Brix, director of protected resources for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, said from Juneau that the agency hopes to have a decision in a couple of months.

"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," Brix said. "It was just a matter of getting the analysis done in a way that would be comprehensive."

All three seal species live in the Bering, Chukchi or Beaufort seas off Alaska's western and northern coasts.

Arctic sea ice last summer dropped to the second-lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979. The record low, set the year before, was 1.65 million square miles. Most climate modelers have predicted a continued downward spiral in summer sea ice.

Ringed seals are the primary prey of polar bears, which were listed as threatened a year ago because of shrinking ice habitat.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton