Senator Stevens Statement on Beluga Listing
Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today released the following statement in response to the Department of Commerce's decision to list the beluga whale population in Cook Inlet as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"There are currently over 100,000 beluga whales in the world. Taking that fact into consideration, I strongly oppose listing belugas in Cook Inlet as endangered. Such a small number, 1 percent perhaps less of the world's belugas have historically ever lived in the waters surrounding Cook Inlet, and this is a deliberate targeting of an area vital to the Alaskan economy to protect a species that is increasing in population.
"Alaskans take great pride in the sustainable management of our natural resources. Knowing the importance of good stewardship of those resources, our state enacted an endangered species law years before Congress passed the federal ESA. When I supported the passage of the ESA, I knew that it would only be effective if the process governing the listing of species was firmly grounded in science. In that respect, the ESA has failed, as this important law is being weakened by unfounded species listings.
"Dependable, scientific estimates of the belugas in Cook Inlet only began in the early 1990s. When the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reviewed a petition to list the belugas in Cook Inlet as endangered under the ESA in 2000, it found that subsistence overharvesting was the root cause of the decline, as opposed to the other causes proposed by many in the environmental community. Since 1998, the substance harvest in that area has been heavily curtailed and then suspended. Most of the belugas in 2000 were juveniles. As those juveniles reach breeding age the population will rebound.
"In 2008, the population was estimated to be 375 individuals an increase of almost 25 percent over the estimate in 2006. Despite evidence of a population showing healthy growth, NMFS chose to list the population as endangered. This is an unwarranted finding which ignores the best available science and absolutely undermines the credibility of the ESA as a whole. Unnecessary and unwarranted listings under the ESA will be challenged, and less protection will ultimately be given to species that really do need protection.
"The listing will substantially delay, if not halt, major development projects within Cook Inlet, an area home to over half the population of Alaska. Among the most important is the expansion of the Port of Anchorage a way station for 80 percent of the goods consumed by Alaskans and a strategic port of departure for the U.S. military. Stifling the growth of the Port of Anchorage through a faulty ESA listing will hurt the growth of all of Alaska. This is not the time to further hamstring our economy.
"Both commercial and sport fishing will be impacted, which could potentially impact billions of dollars currently being brought to Alaska's economy in the form of harvest, export, and tourism.
"This listing will also impact oil and gas in the area. There are several rigs in these waters. This listing could limit Southcentral Alaska's access to a major source of clean burning, affordable energy.
"In these challenging economic times, this listing is last thing Alaskans need. It is wrong."