Breaking: Pacific walrus is not threatened with extinction says US Fish & Wildlife

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they cannot determine with certainty that walruses are likely to become endangered “in the foreseeable future,” which the agency defines as the year 2060.”

(CBC, 4 October 2017).

Walrus female Point Lay Alaska_Ryan Kingsbery USGS

“The agency said in 2011 that walruses deserve the additional protection of being declared threatened, but delayed a listing because other species were a higher priority.

The agency revised the decision based on new information, said Patrick Lemons, the agency’s marine mammals management chief.

“Walrus demonstrated much more ability to change their behaviours than previously thought,” Lemons said. Their ability to rest on shorelines before swimming to foraging areas makes the threat of less sea ice uncertain, he added.”

UPDATES below:

US Fish and Wildlife Service Press Release (4 October 2017), my bold:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the Pacific walrus does not require protection as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The finding follows a comprehensive review and analysis of the best available scientific information concerning the species, as well as local and traditional ecological knowledge of Alaska Native peoples.

The Pacific walrus is found throughout the continental shelf waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas and occasionally in the East Siberian Sea and Beaufort Sea. In its review, the Service paid particular attention to the impact to the species of the ongoing loss of sea ice in the walrus’s range.

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.

Given these behavioral changes, the Service determined that it could not predict, with confidence, future behavioral responses of the species beyond 2060. Accordingly, that date was used as the limit for determining whether the walrus was likely to become endangered within the “foreseeable future,” under the ESA. Beyond that time, predicting behavioral responses becomes too speculative to be considered best available science for the purposes of a listing determination.

“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,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. “If future circumstances warrant or new information comes to light, we can and will re-evaluate the Pacific walrus for ESA protection. In the meantime, the species will continue to be federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

Other stressors that were identified in 2011, including subsistence harvest, have declined. The Pacific walrus population appears to be approaching stability with reproductive and survival rates that are higher than in the 1970s–1980s.

The Pacific walrus will continue to receive protection in the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Protections afforded under the MMPA include prohibitions on the harvest, import, and export of the Pacific walrus or walrus products, except by Alaska Natives for subsistence and handicraft creation and sale. In addition to monitoring the population, the Service will continue to work with the State of Alaska, coastal communities and other partners to conserve the Pacific walrus population and minimize the impacts of stressors where possible.

The decision today is the Service’s final action regarding a petition submitted to the agency in 2008 to list the Pacific walrus.”

Federal Register announcement (USFWS; 4 October 2017), search for “walrus”

“Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Findings on Petitions to List 25 Species as Endangered or Threatened Species” [pdf]

USFWS Species Assessment Report for the Pacific Walrus (final), May 2017 [pdf, MacCracken et al. 2017]

Rational responses:
“Governor Walker [Alaska] Applauds Federal Decision on Pacific Walrus” (Alaska State Gov’t, 4 October 2017; Press Release No. 17-147):

“Alaska’s First People have long relied upon the Pacific walrus for subsistence uses,” Governor Walker said. “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. This federal decision ensures responsible harvesting for future generations.”

“Alaska Delegation Welcomes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Decision on Pacific Walrus” (Federal Senators of Alaska, 4 October 2017, press release):

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, today issued the following statement after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that the Pacific walrus will not be designated as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). New data shows that the Pacific walrus has adapted to certain threats, including loss of sea ice, and is not experiencing reductions in population. As a result, USFWS concluded that the population is sustainable and healthy.

The Pacific walrus will continue to receive protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Alaska Natives will still be able to harvest Pacific walrus for subsistence uses.”

Irrational response, headline format, with other good news embedded: “Walruses face ‘death sentence’ as Trump administration fails to list them as endangered” (The Guardian, 4 October 2017):

“The decisions came as the Republican-controlled House natural resources committee considers five bills that would refashion the Endangered Species Act.”

Irrational response, focus on predictable outrage by the organization that makes a habit of petitioning for ESA status for species, then suing the US government if it doesn’t get it’s way: “The Latest: Walrus advocates slam endangered species denial” (The Washington Post, 4 October 2017):

“The author of a petition to list the Pacific walrus as a threatened or endangered species says the federal government has made a disgraceful decision in rejecting the listing.

Center for Biological Diversity climate science director Shaye Wolf says walruses face extinction from climate change and denying them critical protections will push them closer to the edge.”

 

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