Another year, another round of proposed Trump cuts for marine mammal programs

The bearded seal was released back into the wild at Nome’s west beach. (Photo by Gay Sheffield/University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Sea Grant)

There was good news for some marine mammal advocacy groups Monday. An appeals court upheld an Endangered Species Act listing for ringed seals. But with the release of President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget, the entire day wasn’t a victory.

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Trump proposes eliminating federal dollars for several programs with a presence in Alaska. One of them is the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent oversight agency that reviews the federal management of marine mammals.

Peter Thomas, the executive director, says he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the cuts. Trump proposed zeroing out the funding for last fiscal year.

But Thomas says the work the Commission does in Alaska is especially timely and important. It focuses on issues like subsistence hunting and climate change.

And Thomas says the Commission helps communicate Alaskans’ concerns to policy makers in D.C.

“I mean, we’re in Washington, we’re a long ways away,” Thomas said. “And just having a better understanding of how things operate in Alaska and Alaska Native communities can only help to bring understanding here to Washington.”

The Commission has brought Alaskans to the nation’s capital to advocate and held “listening sessions” in the state to learn about climate impacts on marine mammals.

Trump’s 2019 budget also proposes nixing federal dollars for Alaska Sea Grant, which supports research funding at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, among many other things.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski had this message for those worried about the proposed cuts:

“Don’t get too exercised about things if you see it’s been zeroed out,” Murkowski said. “This is just the first step in a very multi-step process.”

Murkowski stated she hopes Alaskans will make it clear to the delegation what the funding priorities should be.

Liz Ruskin contributed to this report. 

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