For Immediate Release, December 2, 2014
Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301, email@example.com
Largest Critical Habitat Designation in History Would
Protect 226 Million Acres for Alaska's Ringed Seals
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Arctic ringed seals threatened by climate change today received proposed protections for more than 226 million acres of critical habitat in Alaska’s Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Ringed seals were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2012 as a result of a Center for Biological Diversity petition. Today’s critical habitat proposal from the National Marine Fisheries Service would be the largest such designation in history, protecting more than 350,000 square miles, an area more than twice the size of California.
|Photo courtesy National Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA. Photos are available for media use.
“We’re thrilled that the ringed seals are getting the habitat protections they so desperately need as their sea-ice home melts beneath them,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center. “Now the Obama administration needs to make these protections count, by reducing the greenhouse gas pollution that’s rapidly making the Arctic uninhabitable for ringed seals and other ice-dependent animals.”
Ringed seals, which are the primary food for polar bears, excavate snow caves on top of sea ice to create protected shelters for nursing pups. As the Arctic warms, the sea ice is breaking up earlier, and rain is falling on snow, causing snow caves to collapse and leading to the deaths of pups.
This year’s summer sea ice reached its sixth lowest level on record; the lowest level was recorded in 2012, when the sea ice only reached half its average size. Scientists predict that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer before mid-century. At the same time, oil giant Shell continues to press for drilling in ringed seal habitat.
“This isn’t just a victory for ringed seals. The melting sea ice that is so crucial to ringed seals supports a wide variety of wildlife, including polar bears and walruses,” said Wolf. “The quicker the government starts working to protect Arctic species like ringed seals from global warming, the more likely we are to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis.”
Critical habitat provides key protections for listed species by prohibiting federal agencies from permitting, funding, or carrying out actions that “adversely modify” designated areas. Species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without.
Ringed and bearded seals were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in December 2012 after the Center’s 2008 petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Bearded seals lost their Endangered Species Act protection in a decision that the Center is currently appealing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Following today’s proposal, the Fisheries Service will finalize its critical habitat designation by December 2015. The critical habitat designation will not affect Alaska natives’ subsistence harvest, which is exempted generally from the Act’s prohibitions.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.