Ringed and Bearded Seals Join the Threatened Species List

Alaska's governor doesn't agree with the ruling and questions the science behind it.
Ringed seals like this one are among the species threatened by depleting Arctic ice coverage. (Photo: Rick Price/Getty Images)
Dec 23, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

This week, both ringed and bearded seals were newly listed as "threatened species" under the Endangered Species Act. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made the announcement after concluding that depleting arctic ice coverage was threatening the populations of seals in the area.

But Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell has since objected to the seals' new status, characterizing the science behind it as “speculative.”

According to the Associated Press, the sticking point seems to lie here: the NOAA can determine that a species is threatened if there’s a reasonable chance it will become endangered within the foreseeable future. In this case, it concluded that Arctic sea ice depletion will continue in years to come, endangering the animals' populations. These seals rely on ice coverage as an avenue for food availability and as a means of shelter.

MORE: Not So Super Trawler Banned in Australia After Public Protest

In his statement this week, Parnell said neither species is currently in decline and categorizing their populations in that way is inaccurate. "The ESA was not enacted to protect healthy animal populations. Despite this fact, the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) continues the federal government's misguided policy to list healthy species based mostly on speculated impacts from future climate change, adding additional regulatory burdens and costs upon the State of Alaska and its communities."

Those burdens seem to be a reference to the state's oil and gas industry, which face increased costs and hindered operations when animals are determined to be threatened or endangered.

Kara Moriarty, executive director for the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said in her prepared statement that she finds this latest ruling as one that's setting a bad precedent. “The decision to list ringed and bearded seals is based on how climate change might affect these species 100 years from now, despite their populations currently being healthy and abundant. That's bad precedent for making evidence-based decisions that have real impacts for Alaska.”

Governor Parnell reports he's contacted the Alaska Department of Law in a bid to legally undo the decisions of the NMFS. In 2008, when polar bears were listed as threatened, the governor publicly objected and attempted to have that ruling reversed in court, but was unsuccessful.

No one wants to see jobs lost in this economy, or in any economy, but if agencies have the chance to protect species from an imminent threat before it wipes out their population, aren't those agencies obligated to do so?

Do you think that the Endangered Species Act should protect animals who have the potential to become endangered, or are tactics like this one a threat to human jobs? Let us know in Comments.