Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Bush Administration Bureaucrats Have Delayed Protection Over Two Years

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Brent Plater (510) 663-0616
More Information: Notice of Intent to Sue, Center's Otter Web Page.

May 5, 2003

The Center for Biological Diversity (the "Center") today filed notice of its intent to sue the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (the "Service") in order to challenge the Service's failure to list the Aleutian Islands population of northern sea otter as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Bush administration has been delaying the protection of this population, despite recommendations from agency biologists that listing is needed to prevent the population from going extinct.

Once widely abundant throughout coastal areas, the sea otter was hunted to the brink of extinction by commercial hunters. However, after decades of protection, sea otter populations rebounded, and continued to climb through the 1980's. Unfortunately, this conservation success story has taken a turn for the worse: sea otter populations throughout Alaska have been declining rapidly since the mid-80's. No sea otter population has had as dramatic a decline as the Aleutian Islands population. Once the largest population in the world, the population has declined precipitously since 1992.

In response to this decline, the Center filed a formal administrative petition in October of 2000 requesting that the population in the Aleutian Islands be protected under the ESA. Instead, two weeks later the Service placed the population on the "candidate" species list, which by according to the Service's internal policies releases them from the ESA' mandatory deadlines for protecting imperiled species and does not provide any interim protection. The Center filed a 60 day notice of intent to sue for that violation on November 15, 2000. The purpose of 60 day notices is to alert the Service of violations of the Act and provide them with an opportunity to remedy these violations without going to court. Often the Service does not respond to 60 day notices. However, in this instance the 60 day notice worked. The Service agreed to move the listing process forward on a time-frame acceptable to the Center, promising to protect the species under the Act by the end of Fiscal Year 2002 (October 2002).

However, despite the completion of the scientific review of the species decline, bureaucrats in the Bush administration have delayed the formal protection of the species, putting the species in an administrative black hole at precisely the time conservation efforts should be implemented. "By definition, endangered species are short on time, and the Bush administration's unending delay in protecting this population is inexcusable," said Brent Plater, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "They've stated in declarations under oath that the money was there to protect the sea otters in 2002. They've stated in public notices that the money was there and that they must protect the sea otters in 2002. They even directly promised us that the money was there and that they would protect the sea otters in 2002. Yet there is still no ESA protection for these otters, nearly half-way through 2003. Its time the Bush administration was held to its word."

"The sooner the Bush administration acts, the more useful recovery efforts are likely to be. If the administration delays too long it will likely require the listing and protection of all sea otters in Alaska, because the decline will undeniably become a significant portion of range of the entire subspecies."

Photos and further information regarding the plight of the Aleutian population of sea otters is available online at


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