Alaska wanted Arctic ringed seals off endangered species list; federal officials rejected that request

Ringed seal in Kotzebue Sound, Alaska
Ringed seal in Kotzebue Sound, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

On Wednesday, the National Marine Fisheries Service ruled against a petition from the state of Alaska to delist the Arctic ringed seal from the Endangered Species Act.

Last year, the state of Alaska partnered with several North Slope entities to write the petition, arguing that keeping the ringed seal listed as endangered could negatively impact economic opportunities for the state, as well as subsistence rights.

“Although we provided substantial new information to the service, they argued that information was considered in other ways, even though that information wasn’t available previously,” said Chris Krenz, a wildlife science coordinator for the state. “We are disappointed that they took that tact with this petition.”

Krenz says the state believes that the ringed seal isn’t threatened. Officials noted the ringed seal population is in the millions, despite measurable losses in sea ice. Though climate scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service predict that by the year 2100, there will be little to no sea ice in the Arctic, Krenz argues that looking that far ahead doesn’t constitute the foreseeable future.

“There is way too much uncertainty to really understand how ringed seals will adapt or not to changes in our environment,” Krenz said. “We’ve also documented additional information that indicates ringed seals may have higher resilience than initially anticipated.”

The Obama administration listed the Arctic ringed seal under the Endangered Species Act in 2012, citing the effects of climate change on the ringed seal’s sea ice habitat.

Kristen Monsell with the Center for Biological Diversity agrees with the federal ruling.

“The best available science shows that within the foreseeable future, so much of their habitat will be destroyed — it will just melt away from greenhouse gases — that the species will not be able to withstand that loss,” she said.

Monsell says the fact that the ruling came from the Trump administration underscores the need for federally protecting the Arctic ringed seal.

National Marine Fisheries Service will soon begin a five-year review of the Arctic ringed seal to determine whether or not the species should still be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Krenz with the state of Alaska says this will provide an opportunity for the state to continue to make their case for delisting.