Alaska AG to challenge beluga whales' endangered species status

By Chris Rizo | Jan 15, 2009

Talis Colberg (R)

Sarah Palin (R)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Legal Newsline)-The Alaska attorney general plans to sue the federal government over a recent decision to list Cook Inlet beluga whales as an endangered species, the governor's office said.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said in a statement that she will have Attorney General Talis Colberg sue the National Marine Fisheries Service on behalf of the state.

The whales were listed last year under the Endangered Species Act amid concerns by federal scientists that the belugas have been in steady decline for years and are threatened with extinction.

Last summer, scientists said there are an estimated 375 beluga whales in waters off Anchorage.

In his notice of intent to file a lawsuit, delivered Tuesday to outgoing U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and NMFS officials, Colberg said there were procedural errors in the National Marine Fisheries Service's decision.

He also said the federal agency failed to explain why the whales should be given special governmental protections.

"Failure to consider protection measures already in place and failure to document and support key elements of this decision are major flaws in the final rule," said Colberg, a Palin appointee.

In a statement, the Republican governor said the whales' listing is unnecessary because the beluga population near Anchorage may already be recovering as the result of state and federal efforts.

"This listing decision didn't take those efforts into account as required by law," the governor said.

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, said giving special protections to the beluga whales could do "serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of Cook Inlet" by possible delaying infrastructure and oil-related projects.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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