ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (August 4, 2010) – Seeking to uphold the federal protections necessary for the recovery of the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, a coalition of conservation groups today moved to intervene in the case filed by the State of Alaska against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Recent NMFS surveys only found 321 Cook Inlet beluga whales, a drop from 1,300 historically.
Trustees for Alaska represents Alaska Center for the Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, Cook Inletkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council and North Gulf Oceanic Society as intervenors in the State of Alaska’s lawsuit.
“The Cook Inlet beluga whale population will not recover without protection. The Governor is using precious state funds and staff resources to block conservation efforts for the beluga. We’re disappointed but not surprised,” said Karla Dutton, Alaska Director of Defenders of Wildlife.
“The State of Alaska continues to waste taxpayer money by filing frivolous lawsuits when it should be supporting the science needed to help the beluga population recover,” said Bob Shavelson, Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper.
On June 4, the State of Alaska brought a lawsuit to vacate NMFS’s October 2008 decision to list the Cook Inlet beluga whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Alaska’s lawsuit drew a sharp rebuke from the scientists and conservation groups alike.
“This is clearly a case where science and the rule of law should prevail,” said Taryn Kiekow, staff attorney with NRDC. “Prior to being listed as an endangered species, the number of Cook Inlet belugas had declined dramatically. It is now absolutely critical that we protect their designation as an endangered species and their habitat if the population is to survive.”
“While Sarah Palin may be gone, her successor is continuing the State of Alaska’s irrational war on wildlife,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Alaska should be working to protect its greatest assets – its wilderness and wildlife – not suing to overturn protections for endangered whales.”
“It seems the Parnell Administration only likes one kind of science – the kind it agrees with,” said Craig Matkin, an Alaskan marine mammal expert with the North Gulf Oceanic Society. “Every objective expert who’s looked at this small and isolated population agrees it should be listed.”
While there are four other beluga whale populations in Alaska, Cook Inlet belugas are a genetically unique and geographically isolated population of whales that live in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The whale’s population decline has been so severe that, in 2006 the World Conservation Union (IUCN) placed the Cook Inlet beluga on its Red List of endangered species. The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission repeatedly requested that NMFS list the species under the ESA.
“Our thousands of Alaskan members are deeply concerned about the plight of these whales,” said Toby Smith, Executive Director of Alaska Center for the Environment. “The State’s decision is simply not aligned with the public’s interests.”
“With the alarming decline of the Cook Inlet beluga whale, its endangered status is essential to protect the whale’s critical habitat and move toward recovery,” said Brian Litmans, staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska. “It is clear that continuing down the current path in Cook Inlet will not reach that result.”
Additional information on the long history of NMFS’s scientific and policy inquiry into the Cook Inlet beluga whale listing can be found at: