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No Immediate Threat to Ribbon Seal, Judge Agrees

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge ruled that the ribbon seal does not warrant protection as an endangered species, but the listing could change as federal agencies continue to monitor that population of arctic mammal.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace claimed ribbon seal populations were declining and challenged the decision of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to exclude the seal from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

NMFS had concluded: "'Overall, it appears that ribbon seals have had generally good conditions in the central Bering Sea during the past several decades," according to the ruling.

The nonprofits argued that NMFS relied on overly optimistic population estimates, pointing to the decline over the past 40 years of sea ice, on which ribbon seals rely during their mating, nursing and molting periods.

Ribbon seals dwell primarily in Russia's Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering and Chuckchi seas off of western Alaska.

In granting the NMFS summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte found the agency "did not act arbitrarily or capriciously" in reaching its decision to defer protection for the ribbon seal. The agency estimates that the ribbon seal may not become endangered until 2050 and looked at anticipated climate changes through 2100.

"Even though NMFS could have reasonably concluded that further warming out to the year 2100 is likely, in light of the increasing uncertainty of predictions farther into the future and the deference accorded to the agency's expertise, on balance, the agency's decision was not arbitrary or capricious," Laporte wrote.

Laporte added that "this listing decision is not necessarily the last word on the ribbon seal" as the agency will continue to study the ribbon seal's status and abundance.

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