The Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it will not list the Pacific walrus and 24 other species under the Endangered Species Act in response to mass filings by an environmentalist group.
The agency, acting in response to a Sept. 30 deadline, said its review found that listing the 25 species as endangered or threatened “is not warranted at this time.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, which has filed petitions for federal protection on behalf of more than 400 species, called the move a “dark day for America’s imperiled wildlife.”
The 25 species included 14 Nevada springsnails, a Florida lizard, two birds, a crayfish, a snake, a toad and an otterlike creature called the Northern Rocky Mountains fisher.
The Pacific walrus decision drew cheers from the Alaska congressional delegation, which has expressed alarm about the impact of a federal listing on Native Alaskans.
“I welcome the USFWS’s determination to manage wildlife through measurable and scientific methods,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican. “Responsibly harvesting and utilizing Pacific walrus is a traditional and vital subsistence activity for Alaska Natives.”
The walrus, found in the Alaska continental shelf along the Bering and Chukchi seas, has adapted since the service ruled in 2011 that a listing was “warranted but precluded,” based in large part on a projected loss of summer sea ice, according to the agency.
“While walruses use sea ice for a variety of activities, including breeding, birthing, resting and avoiding predators, they have shown an ability to adapt to sea ice loss that was not foreseen when the Service last assessed the species in 2011,” said the FWS in a statement. “Given these behavioral changes, the Service determined that it could not predict, with confidence, future behavioral responses of the species beyond 2060.”
Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, said the decision “recognizes the health and stability of Alaska’s walrus population and ignores the extreme political pressures often associated with new Endangered Species Act listings.”
“There are often numerous unintended consequences associated with new ESA designations, including those that undermine stewardship done at the state, local and tribal level and ignore the needs and firsthand knowledge of local communities,” Mr. Young said. “We’ve seen it before, where field-tested and empirical data was ignored in favor of the environmentalist agenda to limit resource development in Alaska. I’m glad to see that didn’t happen this time.”
Shaye Wolfe, the center’s climate science director, called the decision a “death sentence for the walrus.” The group petitioned to have the Pacific walrus listed in 2008.
“The Trump administration’s reckless denial of climate change not only harms the walrus and the Arctic, but puts people and wildlife everywhere in danger,” she said.
Arctic sea ice reached its annual minimum on Sept. 13, of 1.79 million square miles, the eighth-lowest total in the 38-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
The lowest summer sea-ice level recorded by the center came in 2012, which saw a minimum of 1.31 million square miles.
With less sea ice, walruses have gathered by the thousands along the shoreline in northwestern Alaska and Russia, which has increased the risk of smaller walruses being trampled by the herd in the event of a stampede.
Patrick Lemons, the service’s marine mammals management chief, told the Associated Press that Alaska and Russia have installed protections since 2011 that have greatly reduced trampling deaths.
“Other stressors that were identified in 2011, including subsistence harvest, have declined,” said the service. “The Pacific walrus population appears to be approaching stability with reproductive and survival rates that are higher than in the 1970s1980s.”
The Pacific walrus will continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The lawmakers credited the Alaska State Department of Fish and Game with playing a “critical role in ensuring the sustainable health of the species.”