Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release October 12, 2017

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,

Lawsuit Launched Against Trump Administration for Denying Pacific Walruses Endangered Species Act Protection

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the Trump administration for denying the Pacific walrus protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s notice points out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s denial ignores the best available science on climate change. That denial reversed an Obama administration decision that the Pacific walrus warrants protection because of the dramatic loss of the species’ Arctic sea-ice habitat.

“There’s no question Pacific walruses are endangered, so denying them protection is absurd and dangerous,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The sea ice these animals need to survive is melting away. This ridiculous, about-face decision reflects the Trump administration’s hostility to wildlife, science and the rule of law.” 

In 2008 the Center petitioned the Service to protect the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act because of the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice that it needs for survival. In 2011 the Service determined the walrus warranted protection under the Act, but placed it on the “candidate” waiting list instead of giving it help. A court-ordered settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Center required the Service to make a decision on protecting the walrus by Sept. 30, 2017.

The Pacific walrus lives in Arctic waters off Alaska and needs sea ice for giving birth, nursing and resting. Over the past decade, climate change has caused summer sea ice to disappear from the walrus’s shallow foraging grounds in the Chukchi Sea.

Today’s letter notes that the Service’s “unlawful, politically motivated decision deprives the species of needed protections in the face of climate change and melting sea ice and leaves the species at serious risk of extinction.” The letter also points out that the Service ignored the science, reversed its position that climate change threatens the walrus, and used an unlawfully short timeframe for its analysis of climate threats.

Without summer sea ice for resting, walrus mothers and calves have been forced to come ashore, where they have limited access to food and young walruses are vulnerable to being trampled to death or attacked by predators. 

Arctic sea-ice extent has hit numerous record lows this year. Summer sea ice is half as thick and extensive as it was just a few decades ago. Without strong action to reduce carbon pollution, scientists project that summer sea ice will disappear in the next decade or two.

In early August thousands of Pacific walruses were forced ashore near Point Lay, Alaska, when sea ice disappeared — the earliest haul-out event federal officials have documented. A survey of the area on Sept. 11 found 64 dead walruses, most of them less than a year old. They were likely trampled to death in a stampede.

“Walruses will vanish if federal officials continue to ignore their plight,” Monsell said. “This is a cruel denial of our responsibility to these animals. That’s why we’re turning to the courts to overturn the denial and help save the walrus from extinction.”

The listing of the Pacific walrus would not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska natives.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases