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For Immediate Release, August 2, 2012

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Fringe Property-rights Group Seeks to Remove Protection From Puget Sound's Beloved Orcas

PORTLAND, Ore.— Using a flawed legal argument already rejected by a federal court, the Pacific Legal Foundation and several other organizations submitted a petition today to the National Marine Fisheries Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections for Puget Sound’s “southern resident” population of orcas, also known as killer whales. The petition relies on an argument the foundation has already lost on in court: in an attempt to argue that the charismatic southern residents, found from Puget Sound to the Georgia Strait and sometimes off the West Coast, are not a distinct population.

“This petition is a farce and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Southern resident orcas are well documented to be distinct and highly imperiled — clearly qualified for protection under the Endangered Species Act.”

The Pacific Legal Foundation has been working to remove protections for a number of species that are endangered in the United States but occur in other countries, including marbled murrelets, woodland caribou and now the southern resident orcas. 

“The Endangered Species Act was specifically written to allow for protection of U.S. populations of wildlife species and has been tremendously successful at ensuring that iconic animals like the bald eagle and gray wolf, which also occur in other countries, aren’t lost in the lower 48 states,” said Greenwald. “Most people agree that it’s not acceptable to let species go extinct in the United States just because they occur in other places too. This effort by Pacific Legal Foundation doesn’t fit with the views of the American public, who overwhelmingly value our wildlife.”

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, southern resident orcas were protected as an endangered species in 2005 based on numerous factors making their population distinct. It is one of the only orca populations to feed extensively on salmon; it has a unique dialect; and it is genetically unique. The orcas are severely threatened by pollution, past overcollection and habitat destruction, as are the salmon and many other fish that make up their diet.

“Southern resident orcas are truly unique — an irreplaceable treasure for the Puget Sound region,” said Greenwald. “I’m astounded by this callous move on the part of Pacific Legal Foundation and others to have their protections stripped.”

Pacific Legal Foundation’s petition argues that the Endangered Species Act does not allow listing of distinct population segments of a subspecies but rather only of a species — an argument it has already lost before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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