CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
| June 1, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
San Francisco- The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to provide protections promised over one year ago for the world’s most endangered population of sea otters. Without these protections, scientists predict that these sea otters, found in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and Alaska Peninsula, will become extinct.
Responding to what government scientists have called “the most widespread and precipitous population decline in recorded history,” the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal administrative petition to protect the sea otters in October 2000 under the Endangered Species Act, America’s safety net for endangered fish, wildlife, and plants.
However, one month later the Bush Administration came into power and has refused to process the petition according to the law ever since. Finally in 2004, and only after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Administration, a proposed rule to protect the sea otters was published and distributed for public review.
Yet despite having a completed rule to protect these sea otters under the Endangered Species Act and a dedicated funding source to formally protect the sea otters, the Bush Administration has refused to finalize the protections scientists have indicated the sea otters desperately need, delaying implementation of these protections for over five years.
During this delay, the sea otter’s predicament has become more dire. In an article published in Marine Mammal Science this year, government biologists concluded that sea otter populations have continued to decline since the Center filed its initial listing petition, for a total population decline in the Aleutian Islands of over 95%.
“The Bush Administration’s failure to comply with the most basic provisions of the Endangered Species Act is causing gridlock and preventing biologists from conducting the recovery work the otters desperately need,” said Brent Plater, author of the petition to protect the sea otters. “We owe it to future generations to protect the sea otters and the special places they call home.”
After the fur trade nearly pushed the sea otter over the precipice of extinction, the sea otter was saved by an international treaty banning the sea otter fur trade. The Alaska sea otter population made a remarkable comeback, and by 1985 it comprised over 80% of the world’s total sea otter population. Unfortunately around 1985 this population began one of the most widespread and precipitous population declines in recorded history. Yet the Administration has refused to protect the sea otters, ignoring peer-reviewed science, its own biologists, and marine mammal experts from around the world. While the administration erects roadblocks and delays, literally thousands of additional sea otters have been lost.
“Once the sea otters are gone we cannot bring them back,” said Plater. “The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly successful at saving endangered species like Alaska’s sea otters. But the Bush Administration has refused to add a single endangered species except under court order or threat of lawsuit. These reckless policies are out-of-step with our Nation’s conservation ethic.”
The suit was filed in U.S. Federal District Court in Washington D.C.