Two Arctic Ice Seals Threatened by Climate Change Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

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Rebecca Noblin, (907) 274-1110

Two Arctic Ice Seals Threatened by Climate Change Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

Seals Would Be First Alaskan Species Since Polar Bear to Be Listed Due to Climate Change

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Responding to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the
Obama administration today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for
two ice-dependent Arctic seals threatened by climate change. The bearded seal and ringed seal will be
the first Alaskan species since the polar bear to be protected primarily
due to threats from climate change.

"Global
warming is rapidly robbing these Arctic seals of the ice they need to
survive," said Rebecca Noblin, the Center's Alaska director. "With this
decision, the Obama administration is improving the odds for these two
struggling species of ice-dependent seals. The Arctic
is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, so no animal reliant
on Arctic sea ice is safe."

The
ringed seal, the primary food for polar bears, excavates snow caves on top
of the sea ice to create protected shelters for nursing pups. As the Arctic warms, the sea ice is breaking up earlier, and
rain is falling on snow, causing snow caves to collapse and leading to the
deaths of pups.

Bearded
seals, distinctive for their mustachioed appearance and elaborate courtship
songs, give birth and nurse their pups on pack ice. The rapid loss of pack
ice jeopardizes their ability to rear young and is lowering the abundance
of the seals' food on their shallow foraging grounds in the Bering Sea.

The
seals' winter sea-ice habitat in the Bering, Okhotsk and Barents seas
is projected to decline by at least 40 percent by 2050, while summer sea
ice across the Arctic has been projected
to disappear in the next 20 years. These seals also face threats from
proposed offshore oil and gas development off Alaska, where an oil spill in icy waters
would be impossible to clean up. The Obama administration recently
announced plans to move forward with a Bush-era plan to drill in the
seals' habitat off Alaska.

"Endangered
Species Act protection provides time-tested tools to save species from
extinction," said Noblin. "Reducing the world's carbon
dioxide level - which is driving global warming - to less than
350 parts per million can restore Arctic sea ice and preserve a planet that
still contains wonders such as polar bears, walruses and ice seals."

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

In
May 2008, the Center filed a petition to protect ringed, bearded and
spotted seals under the Endangered Species Act. The administration has one
year to finalize today's decision to list bearded and ringed seals.
The listing would not affect Alaska
natives' subsistence harvest, which is exempted generally from the
Act's prohibitions.

Under
today's decision, all populations of ringed seals would receive
Endangered Species Act protection, while only the Pacific subspecies of
bearded seals, which includes those in Alaska
and Russia,
would receive protection. Today's proposal to protect the ice seals
comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency
within the Department of Commerce. A separate federal agency, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, within the Department of the Interior, is under court
order to decide by Dec. 23 whether polar bears should
receive a higher level of protection as "endangered" rather
than their current "threatened" status. The Fish and Wildlife
Service must also decide by Jan. 31, 2011, whether the Pacific walrus
warrants protection under the Act.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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