- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The federal agency overseeing seal populations will hold five hearings in Alaska on proposed critical habitat for ringed seals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coast as critical habitat for the main prey of polar bears.

A 90-day public comment period began Dec. 9.

NOAA Fisheries will hold public hearings Jan. 28 in Nome, Feb. 2 in Anchorage and Feb. 17 in Kotzebue.

The final public hearings will be Feb. 23 in Barrow and Feb. 26 in Bethel.

Ringed seals use sea ice for birthing and molting.

Ringed seals were declared threatened in December 2012. Federal scientists say a decrease in sea ice is probable this century and changes likely will cause ringed seal populations to decline.

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