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Alaska sues federal government over beluga whales

January 19, 2009 |  7:03 pm

Beluga The state of Alaska has announced its plans to sue the federal government over the decision to list the Cook Inlet beluga whale as an endangered species.  The listing, announced last year, affects only Cook Inlet belugas, which are genetically distinct from other belugas.

From a statement posted on Gov. Sarah Palin's website:

"The State of Alaska has worked cooperatively with the federal government to protect and conserve beluga whales in Cook Inlet," said Palin. "This listing decision didn't take those efforts into account as required by law....

"While challenging the listing, we will continue to protect beluga whales," said Palin. "We will also be assisting Alaskan communities and stakeholders with navigating the complex bureaucratic process this listing decision imposes on their projects and working cooperatively with federal agencies on the required consultations, designations of critical habitat and development of a recovery plan and objectives."

But many environmental activists voiced their opposition to Alaska's challenge. Prime among them was Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity, who said, "Gov. Palin seems more than willing to sacrifice endangered whales on the altar of oil company profits." 

The Anchorage Daily News reports on other notable dissenters:

"It seems the Palin administration only likes one kind of science -- the kind it agrees with," said Craig Matkin, an Alaska marine mammal specialist with the North Gulf Oceanic Society. "Every objective expert who's looked at this small and isolated (beluga) population agrees it should be listed."

Audubon Alaska scientist John Schoen noted that the protective status for local belugas was strongly endorsed by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission empaneled by Congress.

In 1979, University of Alaska biologists estimated that about 1,300 belugas lived in the Cook Inlet. Fewer than 400 remain today.

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Paul A. Rollins/Associated Press

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