Fish and Wildlife Service officially designated 5,855 acres as critical habitat
for southwest Alaska sea otters on Wednesday. The areas span from the end of
the Aleutians to the Alaska Peninsula and mostly include near-shore areas that
are less than 20 meters deep and kelp beds. U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson
Bruce Woods says the designation only affects federal activities in the area.
-- (Otters - 1 19
s "...designated critical
the designation should not affect any commercial, subsistence, or sport
fishing. Activities that might cause major environmental changes, like dredging
or drilling for oil and gas, would have to be reviewed by the service before being
-- (Otters - 1b 5
s "...yet know of.")
critical habitat designation is required under the Endangered Species Act
because Alaska's southwestern population of sea otters is considered
‘threatened.' Their population declined from 100-thousand in the 1970s to less
than 40-thousand now. In the Aleutians, the population is less than 10,000.
Woods says protecting the habitat is one step towards protecting the
-- (Otters - 2 28
s "...to escape.")
it's too soon to say if this will be enough to help rebuild the population.
for the critical habitat designation was selected last year and put up for
public comment after the Service came to an agreement with the Center for
Biological Diversity. The Center sued Fish and Wildlife to get the otters
listed as threatened in 2005. When the government did not designate any
critical habitat, the Center sued them again in 2006. Rebecca Noblin is a staff
attorney with the Center in Anchorage.
-- (Otters - 3 17 s "...that
was carried through.")
organization wanted more areas to be designated but says this is a good start
to protecting the species. They are also concerned about the potential impacts
of oil and gas drilling in the North Aleutian Basin on the threatened otter
populations. A five-year lease plan for the area is currently under
consideration by the Minerals Management Service.