ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Pacific Walrus populations are adapting to declining arctic sea ice and do not require protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Wednesday.
The decision comes almost 10 years after the service was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2008 to list the Pacific Walrus as a threatened or endangered species. In 2011, the species was added to a list of candidates to be considered for endangered species protection.
“The Pacific walrus population appears to be approaching stability with reproductive and survival rates that are higher than in the 1970s–1980s,” USFWS wrote in a press release.
“While walruses use sea ice for a variety of activities, including breeding, birthing, resting and avoiding predators, they have shown an ability to adapt to sea ice loss that was not foreseen when the Service last assessed the species in 2011.”
Fish and Wildlife added that other stressors identified in 2011, such as the impact of subsistence hunting, have declined as well.
While this is the agency’s final decision following the 2008 petition, USFWS deputy director Greg Sheehan said they will re-evaluate the species for ESA protection, “if future circumstances warrant or new information will come to light.”
"Our decision not to list the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act at this time is based on a rigorous evaluation of the best available science, which indicates the population appears stable, and the species has demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions," Sheehan said in a statement.
The decision was praised by Governor Bill Walker, Alaska’s congressional delegation, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision confirms the State of Alaska’s data-driven findings that the Pacific walrus population is currently robust and adapted to living in a dynamic environment,” Walker said Wednesday. “This federal decision ensures responsible harvesting for future generations.”
“I welcome this action by the USFWS, a decision that recognizes the health and stability of Alaska's walrus population and ignores the extreme political pressures often associated with new Endangered Species Act listings,” said Congressman Don Young in a joint statement with Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski.
“There are often numerous unintended consequences associated with new ESA designations, including those that undermine stewardship done at the state, local and tribal level and ignore the needs and firsthand knowledge of local communities,” he added.
The Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental group, called the decision “disgraceful.”
“Walruses face extinction from climate change, and denying them critical protections will push them closer to the edge,” wrote climate science director Shaye Wolf.
“The Trump administration’s reckless denial of climate change not only harms the walrus and the Arctic, but puts people and wildlife everywhere in danger.”
According to USFWS, the species still retains its protections under the Marine Mamma Protection Act, which prohibits importing or exporting Pacific Walrus or walrus products, “except by Alaska Natives for subsistence and handicraft creation and sale.”