Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 8, 2018

Contact: Emily Jeffers, (510) 844-7109,

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Failure to Protect Walrus

Officials Reversed Scientific Finding That Ice Melt Requires Endangered Species Listing

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for denying Endangered Species Act protection to Pacific walrus. The lawsuit is being filed just as Arctic sea ice coverage is hitting a record low.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found in 2011 that the walrus warranted protection because climate change is destroying the sea ice it needs to survive. But a few months after Trump took office, the agency reversed course and found the species no longer merits protection.

“The Trump administration’s outrageous reversal is a deathblow for the Pacific walrus,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center. “Arctic ice is disappearing at a record rate, and walruses are suffering catastrophic habitat loss. Rather than ignoring the science, the administration needs to give these magnificent creatures the protection they desperately need to survive — and legally deserve.”

In 2011, following the Center’s 2008 petition to list the walrus as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the Service determined that the Pacific walrus warranted protection under the law. Officials concluded that climate change would destroy the walrus’s sea-ice habitat and cause a substantial population decline.

Six years later the Trump administration executed a 180-degree reversal, determining in October that listing the Pacific walrus as threatened or endangered was "not warranted.” The Service reached this conclusion despite strong science demonstrating the Pacific walrus faces extinction within the foreseeable future.

The case for listing the species has only grown stronger since 2011 as Arctic sea-ice extent hit numerous record lows; summer sea ice continues to disappear from the walrus’s foraging grounds in the Chukchi Sea; and new models representing the international scientific consensus on climate change point to a dramatic loss of the walrus’s sea-ice habitat through at least the end of the century.

Pacific walruses, known for their massive size and ever-growing pair of tusks, depend on Arctic sea ice for their essential life functions. Pacific walruses need sea ice for courtship, giving birth, nursing their young, and resting during foraging and molting.  Without strong action to reduce carbon pollution, scientists project that summer sea ice will disappear in the next decade or two.

“The science clearly shows that climate change is destroying the sea ice walruses need to survive,” said Jeffers. “We’re confident the court will see this reckless finding as a politically driven decision that completely ignores the agency’s legal obligations to protect imperiled wildlife.”

The listing of the Pacific walrus would not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska natives. Listing the walrus would provide the species with several important protections, including increased protection from oil and gas development and the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change. It also requires the federal government to designate critical habitat to protect the species’ most essential habitat areas.

The lawsuit comes a day before the close of the comment period on the Trump administration’s proposal to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in all U.S. oceans, including the Chukchi and Bering seas where walrus live.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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