It's no secret that Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell is disenchanted with the Endangered Species Act , the federal law that protects struggling animal populations andtheir habitats. While Parnell criticizes the use of the courts by environmentaliststo stymie development, he has had no qualms using the same tacticto try to dislodge perceived threats to development. Hisadministration has been quick to litigate matters it perceives asproblematic. |
In fact, he's sought a $1 million increase for state lawyers towage more fights. And he's proud to be the guy leading the charge. Yes, we have filed a lot of lawsuits. And I don t apologize for any of them , he once said during a luncheon hosted by the ResourceDevelopment Council in 2010.
Federal agencies and the governor's office both realize the courtof public opinion matters. Where Parnell has loudly criticized theapplication of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Alaska, the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service is reaching out in its own way. On Thursday, it will hold a public meeting at the Loussac Libraryin Anchorage. During the afternoon talk -- The ESA and You: A Conversation about Conservation -- the agency will discuss its priorities and look for ways theact can be more effective and less contentious. That may be a tall order.
We are under an unprecedented assault by federal agencies andenvironmental groups to lock up Alaska s resources, Parnell saidtwo years ago. The examples are almost too numerous to list:NPR-A stoppage, OCS moratorium, ANWR wilderness designation,slowdown of EIS permitting at Point Thomson, constant ESA listingsand thousands of square miles dedicated to ESA critical habitat,and ocean zoning. Every day, some federal agency seeks to shut usup and lock us down in Alaska. If that's true, how can Fish and Wildlife service claim this? Since 2002, we (Fish and Wildlife) have reviewed over 5,500projects under the ESA, including oil and gas exploration,drilling, mining, construction, port development, timber harvest,and energy projects.
No projects in Alaska have been stopped or hadmajor modifications because of the ESA. That statement aims to counter the notion that red tape is blockingdevelopment, part of Fish and Wildlife's four-month-long,myth-busting effort surrounding the Endangered Species Act. Another myth, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, isthe idea that the endangered species act places overly restrictiverequirements on oil and gas development in Alaska, adding millionsto development costs. Here's how Fish and Wildlife counters thatassertion: We have worked effectively with the oil and gas industry fordecades to conserve Alaska s species and minimize disruption toindustry activities.
As an example, in the spring of 2011, a polar bear emerged from her den unexpectedly near an oil industry site. The producer immediatelycontacted us and we worked together to determine the appropriatemeasures that would protect the bear and allow industry activitiesto continue. The polar bear, recently listed as threatened, is the mosthigh-profile celebrity species encountered by the act. Coca-Cola has pledged to help the bears via a fund raising andconservation effort. At the same time, Shell Oil continues itsefforts in Alaska to send ships to perform offshore oil drilling inthe polar bear's home turf -- the Arctic Ocean.
Other topics that will be brought up at Thursday's public meetinginclude: Explaining why, if extinction is a natural process, peopleshould worry about trying to stop it. How the rights of Alaska's subsistence hunters fit into theregulatory framework set up to protect endangered animals. Fourteen Alaska species, including one plant, are listed asendangered under the ESA. They inclde the Aleutian shield fern,blue whale, bowhead whale, Cook Inlet beluga whale, Eskimo curlew,fin whale, humpback whale, leatherback sea turtle, North Pacificright whale, sei whale, short-tailed albatross, sperm whale,Steller sea lion, and the wood bison. Eight species are listed as threatened: green sea turtle,loggerhead sea turtle, northern sea otter, olive ridley sea turtle,polar bear, spectacled eider, Steller sea lion, and the Steller'seider.
Those species under review for listing include the olive-sidedflycatcher, Kittlitz's murrelet, yellow-billed loon, Pacificwalrus, Queen Charlotte goshawk, bearded seal, black-footedAlbatross, Pacific herring, and the ringed seal. Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.
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