Federal government extends public comment period for Arctic seal critical habitat

A bearded seal rests on ice in 2011 off the coast of Alaska. (Photo by John Jansen/NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center)
A bearded seal rests on ice in 2011 off the coast of Alaska. (Photo by John Jansen/NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center)

The federal government is extending the public comment period for proposed critical habitat for ringed and bearded seals. Both species had been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act during the Obama administration in 2012.

Designating an area as critical habitat means it contains features deemed essential to threatened species. Taking up a large swath of Arctic waters, the chosen area for the seals contains sea ice that they rely on for hunting and nursing their young.

A critical habitat designation does not mean that it’s off limits to human activity. However, if the government makes a decision about the area, they must consult with local biologists to ensure the species and habitat aren’t negatively impacted.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed critical habitat for the two species of Arctic seals in January.

By law, the critical habitat should have been designated shortly after the seals had been listed as threatened. But the process was delayed by almost a decade, in part due to numerous lawsuits from the state of Alaska, the oil industry and others.

The original deadline for the public to weigh in on the habitat was March 9. It has now been extended to April 8.

Comments can be submitted online or by mail.

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