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August 8, 2005

CONTACT: BRENT PLATER 415-436-9682 x 301

Alaskan Sea Otter Population Protection Begins Tomorrow
Fish and Wildlife Service Court Documents Show Rule Expected August 9, 2005

San Francisco- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) announced today that sea otters in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, Alaska Peninsula, Western Cook Inlet, and Kodiak Islands will be protected as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act, our nation’s safety net for fish and wildlife in danger of extinction.

The areas protected comprise the southwest Alaska northern sea otter “distinct population segment,” a discrete and significant sea otter population that suffered the most widespread and precipitous population decline in recorded history. In response to this decline, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal administrative petition to protect the sea otters in October 2000 under the Endangered Species Act. The Bush Administration came into power one month later and FWS refused to process the petition according to the law ever since. Today’s announcement was made one day before the expiration of a court-ordered deadline for the FWS to answer for its unlawful delay in providing protection to the population.

“Today’s announcement is a positive step toward sea otter conservation and recovery,” said Brent Plater, of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We owe it to future generations to protect the sea otters and the special places they call home, and the Endangered Species Act provides resource managers with the best tools available to ensure that sea otters are brought back from the brink of extinction.”

The Endangered Species Act is America’s safety net for wildlife, fish, and plants on the brink of extinction. A nationwide poll found that 86% of American voters support the Endangered Species Act. This is due in part to the Endangered Species Act’s success in preventing extinction. The Endangered Species Act has saved over 99% of listed endangered species from extinction, and scientists have found that the statute has reduced America’s extinction rate by an order of magnitude. With today’s announcement, these proven tools will begin to apply to the sea otter population.

“Saving the sea otters will be a complex task, because they may be an indicator of ecosystem decay in the Bering Sea,” said Plater. “That’s why the Endangered Species Act listing is so important. It provides resource managers with tools to protect not only individual animals, but also the special places the sea otters need to recover. We urge the FWS to move forward with deliberate speed to protect these critical habitat areas, because scientists have shown that species with critical habitats protected are twice as likely to be recovering as those without.”

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 Bush Administration refused to protect the sea otters, ignoring peer-reviewed science, its own biologists, and marine mammal experts from around the world. While the Bush administration erected roadblocks and delays, literally thousands of additional sea otters were lost. Today’s announcement insures that Alaska’s sea otters will be given the protections they desperately need to survive and recover.


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