| ANCHORAGE, Alaska
ANCHORAGE, Alaska Jan 14 Five months after
suing to keep polar bears off the U.S. threatened species list,
Alaska's government said Wednesday it plans to issue a similar
challenge to block federal protections for a struggling
population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet, a mature
Former vice presidential hopeful Gov. Sarah Palin said the
energy-rich state believes the Endangered Species Act
protections for belugas announced in October by the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are unwarranted.
"The State of Alaska has worked cooperatively with the
federal government to protect and conserve beluga whales in
Cook Inlet," the Republican governor said in a news release
announcing that a 60-day notice of intent to sue had been sent
to NOAA. "This listing decision didn't take those efforts into
account as required by law."
Beluga whales swimming in Cook Inlet, a glacier-fed
saltwater channel running from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska,
numbered as high as 1,300 three decades ago, but has dropped to
about 375 since then, according to NOAA.
Alaska's announcement it would challenge the endangered
listing drew ire from environmental groups.
"Once again Governor Palin has demonstrated either a
complete lack of understanding or lack of concern over the
plight of endangered species," Brendan Cummings, oceans program
director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a
Federal scientists believe overhunting by the area's Alaska
Native population caused the decline in the beluga population.
But Alaska officials say the whales are recovering due to
some recent controls on hunting, said Doug Vincent-Lang, an
official at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"The main threat has been addressed," he said.
The state and several municipal governments and business
groups argue that an endangered listing will hamper business in
Alaska's most densely populated region.
Among the affected activities would be offshore oil and gas
operations in the mature Cook Inlet basin, they argue. Major
Cook Inlet oil and gas operators are Unocal, Marathon Oil
(MRO.N), ConocoPhillips (COP.N) and Chevron (CVX.N).
The decision to pursue a lawsuit challenging the beluga
listing follows an August lawsuit filed by the Palin
administration that seeks to overturn the threatened listing
for the polar bear.
The state of Alaska is arguing that listing polar bears as
a threatened species will hurt Alaskan oil and gas exploration,
fisheries and tourism.
(Editing by Christian Wiessner)