Feds Backpedal on Endangered Listing for Pacific Walrus

Pacific walrus. (Courthouse News Service via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

(CN) – The Trump administration said Wednesday the Pacific walrus will not be listed as a threatened species, despite environmental groups’ claims the aquatic mammal is in danger.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement the species is not likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

“Our decision not to list the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act at this time is based on a rigorous evaluation of the best available science, which indicates the population appears stable, and the species has demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions,” Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan said in a statement.

The Pacific walrus, native to the northern coasts of Alaska, uses sea ice in the summer to forage for food and to rest. Climate change has led to the decline of the Arctic sea ice, forcing walruses to go ashore where food is more limited and predators are more likely to attack.

Female walruses and their young also rode the sea ice during the summer, as it gave them protection from aquatic predators. Instead, walruses have been forced onto Alaskan beaches by the thousands.

The government’s response comes from a 2008 petition from the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity. The group already stated that they would sue if the walruses were not listed as an endangered species.

“This disgraceful decision is a death sentence for the walrus,” the center’s climate science director Shaye Wolf in a statement. “Walruses face extinction from climate change, and denying them critical protections will push them closer to the edge. 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.”

This move from the government is a reversal of a 2011 decision when the Fish and Wildlife Service determined the walrus should receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, but delayed listing them in favor of other species that were deemed more highly threatened.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, R-At Large, released a statement applauding the government’s decision.

“I welcome this action by the USFWS, a decision that recognizes the health and stability of Alaska’s walrus population and ignores the extreme political pressures often associated with new Endangered Species Act listings,” Young said.

 

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