Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 23, 2023

Contact:

Kristen Monsell, (914) 806-3467, kmonsell@biologicaldiversity.org

Legal Intervention Defends Protections for Arctic Ringed Seals

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a motion today to intervene in a lawsuit regarding protections for the Arctic ringed seal. The intervention seeks to defend the federal government’s rejection of the state of Alaska’s efforts to end Endangered Species Act protections for the seal.

Alaska, North Slope Borough and others petitioned to delist the species in 2019. The National Marine Fisheries Service rejected that petition in 2020, concluding that the petition failed to “present substantial scientific or commercial information” that would justify delisting the seal. The petitioners challenged that decision in federal court in Alaska in late 2022.

“We can’t stand by and watch ringed seals lose critical Endangered Species Act protections,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center. “The science is clear that climate change is continuing to destroy the sea ice habitat these seals need to survive.”

The seal’s presence on the endangered species list has a contentious history. The Center originally petitioned to list the species in 2008, and the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the species as threatened in 2012. The state of Alaska, oil industry and others challenged the listing rule in federal court in Alaska, and the Center intervened to defend the listing.

In 2018 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the agency’s decision to list the species. The court found that climate change models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that ringed seal habitat is diminishing as sea ice recedes and “reasonably suppor[t] the determination that a species reliant on sea ice likely would become endangered in the foreseeable future.” The 2019 delisting petition contained many of the same arguments that the 9th Circuit rejected.

“Ringed seals have a shot at survival thanks to the Endangered Species Act, but only if we rapidly reduce the greenhouse gas pollution destroying their habitat,” Monsell said. “If we don’t tackle climate change with ambitious action, we’ll face a lonely future on a planet that’s missing these seals and so many other amazing creatures.”

Ringed seals give birth in snow caves built on sea ice. Climate change is reducing Arctic snowpack, causing caves to collapse and leaving pups vulnerable to death by freezing or from predators. The Arctic is warming almost four times faster than the rest of the planet.

Endangered Species Act listing offers ringed seals increased protection from oil and gas development, as well as against the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change. Listing of the seals does not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska Natives.

RSRingedSeal_NatlMarineMammalLaboratory_FPWC
Ringed seal, Pusa hispida, (c) National Marine Mammal Laboratory/NOAA Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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