Appeals Court: Arctic ringed seals are threatened species

Appeals Court: Arctic ringed seals are threatened species

  • By Dan Joling
  • Monday, February 12, 2018 11:12pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — A seal that depends on Arctic sea ice for reproduction will receive threatened species protection, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel overturned a lower court decision and ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted properly in listing ringed seals as a threatened species because of projected loss of sea ice due to climate warming.

The decision reverses a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline of Anchorage, who in March 2016 said the agency’s decision was speculative.

The decision is closely related to a judgment on another ice-dependent species, bearded seals. Beistline, the judges said, required long-range data demonstrating the decline of ringed seals, information that is not available and is not required under the Endangered Species Act for a listing.

“The district court cannot require the agency to ‘wait until it has quantitative data reflecting the species decline, its population tipping point, and the exact year in which that tipping point would occur before it could adopt conservation policies to prevent that species’ decline,’” the judges wrote.

The agency determination that ringed seals are likely to become endangered was reasonable and based on the best science available as the law requires, the judges said.

Ringed seals get their name from small light-colored circles on their coats. The smallest of Alaska’s ice seals, ringed seals are the only ones that thrive in completely ice-covered Arctic waters. They use stout claws to dig and maintain breathing holes.

When snow covers those holes, females excavate snow caves, where they give birth to pups that cannot survive in ice-cold water. Pups are susceptible to freezing until they grow a blubber layer.

Ringed seals are the main prey of polar bears, which often catch breeding females or pups by collapsing lairs.

Early breakup of sea ice, less snow and even rain threatens lairs, exposing pups to polar bears, Arctic foxes and freezing temperatures.

The National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that the ringed seal likely would be endangered based on climate change models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projecting continued loss of sea ice and higher temperatures through the end of the century.

Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the listing petition in 2008, said Beistline wanted very specific information about ringed seal population decline. The law does not require that degree of specificity, Monsell said.

“Particularly here, waiting for perfect science would essentially condemn the species to extinction because it would simply be too late at that point to save them because their sea ice habitat would already be gone,” she said.

Appeals Court: Arctic ringed seals are threatened species

More in News

A studded tire is attached to a very cool car in the parking lot of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Studded tire removal deadline extended

A 15-day extension was issued via emergency order for communities above the 60 degrees latitude line

A sign for Peninsula Community Health Services stands outside their facility in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
PCHS to pursue Nikiski expansion, moves to meet other community needs

PCHS is a private, nonprofit organization that provides access to health care to anyone in the community

Jordan Chilson votes in favor of an ordinance he sponsored seeking equitable access to baby changing tables during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna OKs ordinance seeking to increase access to baby changing tables

The ordinance requires all newly constructed or renovated city-owned and operated facilities to include changing tables installed in both men’s and women’s restrooms

Joel Caldwell shows off the new Tecnam Traveller on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. Kenai Aviation has since added two more Tecnam Travellers to its fleet. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Aviation adds 3rd plane to commuter service, readies for busy summer schedule

Kenai Aviation plans to increase its schedule to include 18 flights a day running seven days a week

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Kelley Cizek, right, speaks as Jason Tauriainen, Patti Truesdell and Penny Vadla listen during a special meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s school board in Soldotna on Monday.
‘They deserve better than this’

School board passes budget with broad swath of cuts, including pools, theaters and some support staff

The Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 1, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska House passes budget with roughly $2,275 payments to residents, bill goes to Senate

The bill also includes a roughly $175 million, one-time increase in aid to school districts that would be paid according to a funding formula

The Kenai River flows near Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. The Riverfront Redevelopment project will impact much of Soldotna’s riverside areas downstream to the bridge. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna riverfront redevelopment planning moves forward

Soldotna City Council on Monday unanimously approved the creation of a project manager to shepherd the Riverfront Redevelopment Project

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Corey Cannon, who plays baseball as part of Soldotna Little League, speaks to the Soldotna City Council during their meeting in Soldotna on Wednesday.
Soldotna Little League receives donation for facility repairs

The city owns the fields, but the Little League leases the land and is responsible for the maintenance of the facilities

Aleutian Airways logo. Photo courtesy of Aleutian Airways
Aleutian airways to halt Homer service during runway project

Service will be suspended beginning April 15

Most Read