Court ruling keeps bearded seals on Endangered Species List

Bearded Seal pup (Erignathus barbatus) Photo: NOAA
Bearded Seal pup (Erignathus barbatus) Photo: NOAA

An appeals court today upheld a federal decision to list a species of ice seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision that threw out the listing.

The National Marine Fisheries Service added two Arctic populations of bearded seals to the Endangered Species list in 2012, in part because the sea ice they depend on is rapidly disappearing due to climate change.

Groups including the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation sued to stop the listing, saying the decision wasn’t based on science and could restrict development. The seals live in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska.

A district court judge in Anchorage ruled in their favor, saying long term climate predictions were volatile and the federal agency didn’t have enough data on whether the seals could adapt to the loss of their habitat.

The Appeals court rejected that argument.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for the listing in 2008, called today’s decision a “huge victory” –one that shows the importance of the Endangered Species Act to protect animals threatened by climate change.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association says it’s disappointed with the decision and considering its options moving forward.