Murkowski Comments on Pacific Walrus Endangered Status

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, issued the following statement today after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the Pacific walrus would be designated a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Service said the Pacific walrus warrants ESA protection, but it won’t move forward with a formal listing at this time because of more pressing higher priority species listings. As a result, the Service said the walrus will be added to the agency’s list of candidates for ESA protection and its future status will be reviewed annually. The Pacific Walrus is currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the FWS would recommend that the Pacific walrus warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act ,” Murkowski, the senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. “Once FWS went down this road with the polar bear listing, where the agency used highly variable modeling to project 50 years into the future possible impacts of projected loss of sea ice, it was inevitable that more listings of other Arctic species would follow. I believe that the future listing of the walrus will be premature and highly speculative until we have verifiable science which shows that the projected loss of habitat does endanger a currently healthy species. Even then, a listing under the ESA will do nothing to change the considerable uncertainty of the effects of climate change on the walrus population or the effectiveness of the ESA in mitigating the loss of habitat.

“The only thing we know for sure today is the drastic impact that this action will have on Alaska. We will have a critical habitat proposal that will be even larger than the one for the polar bear; it will increase the regulatory burden and costs of all economic activity in the area and it will lead to even more burdensome environmental litigation. And even though the agency finds that subsistence hunting is not a factor in the species being warranted for listing, there will be increased pressure to reduce harvest levels and this will negatively impact the nutrition and the very existence of our Native peoples. The Fish and Wildlife Service should not be surprised when Congress fights back on these unwarranted and unwelcome overreaches.”

The FWS said the Pacific walrus is threatened because of the loss of sea ice in its arctic habitat due to climate change and that sufficient scientific and commercial evidence exists to warrant protection under the ESA.

In addition to an annual review, the Service said it will develop a proposed rule to protect the Pacific walrus under the ESA “as priorities allow,” and added that any future proposal to list the species will be subject to public review and comment.