To the U.S. Interior Department and White House CEQ on Incidental Takes of Polar Bears and Pacific Walruses

To the U.S. Interior Department and White House CEQ on Incidental Takes of Polar Bears and Pacific Walruses

pToday, comments close for “Incidental Take of Polar Bears and Pacific Walruses in the Chukchi and Bering Seas and Adjacent Coast of Alaska During Oil and Gas Industry Activities for 5 Years.” Friends of Animals submitted public comments (joined by WildEarth Guardians, under Regulation Identifier Number 1018-AY67) to oppose this regulation by which the Fish Wildlife Service would permit fuel companies to harm marine mammals over a five-year course of commercial oil and gas prospecting, starting June 11, 2013. /p
pThe government, in its draft Environmental Assessment (EA), acknowledges the possibility of unpredictable effects of spills and waste on polar bear and Pacific walrus populations already in peril. An example scenario, one of several detailed in the EA, is “that an oiled [walrus] calf will be unrecognizable to its mother either by sight or by smell, and be abandoned. However, the greater threat may come from an oiled calf that is unable to swim away from the contamination and a mother that would not leave without the calf, resulting in the potential exposure of both animals.” /p
pAnd the other sea animals normally caught by these animals as prey, the EA acknowledges, might die immediately. Even greater is the potential harm caused by well blowouts, as the EA further acknowledges. Polar bears and walruses cannot afford the risk. This risk is not insignificant. [To view the full letter, continue…]/p
pstrongDate: 8 February 2013/strong/p
pTo:/p
pSecretary Ken Salazarbr /
U.S. Department of the Interiorbr /
1849 C Street, N.W.br /
Washington, D.C. 20240br /
Via e-mail/p
pSarah Conn, Field Supervisorbr /
Fish and Wildlife Servicebr /
U.S. Department of the Interiorbr /
101 12th Avenue, Room 110br /
Fairbanks, Alaska 99701br /
Via e-mail/p
pDiane Bowenbr /
National Marine Mammal Coordinatorbr /
Fish and Wildlife Servicebr /
U.S. Department of the Interiorbr /
Room 840, 4401 North Fairfax Drivebr /
Arlington, Virginia 22203br /
Via e-mail/p
pNancy Sutley, Chairbr /
White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)br /
722 Jackson Place, N.W.br /
Washington, D.C. 20503br /
Via e-mail/p
pGreetings!/p
pBy way of introduction, Friends of Animals, a nonprofit animal-advocacy organization incorporated in the state of New York since 1957, supports projects to protect at-risk animals, including marine species. We are one of 19 Non-Governmental Organizations listed as “consulted” in the above-captioned Environmental Assessment. We have a history of legal work for endangered and threatened species, and species in recovery, as well as writing and public speaking on climate and energy issues./p
pToday, comments close for “Incidental Take of Polar Bears and Pacific Walruses in the Chukchi and Bering Seas and Adjacent Coast of Alaska During Oil and Gas Industry Activities for 5 Years.” Friends of Animals submitted a href=”http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R7-ES-2012-0043-0007” public comments/a (joined by WildEarth Guardians, under Regulation Identifier Number 1018-AY67) to oppose this regulation by which the Fish Wildlife Service would permit fuel companies to harm marine mammals over a five-year course of commercial oil and gas prospecting, starting June 11, 2013. /p
pWe oppose this proposed regulation for a variety of reasons, all of which strike us as both urgent and underappreciated. /p
pstrongDirect effects on polar bears and Pacific walruses/strong/p
pThe Marine Mammal Protection Act bars hunting, killing, capture, or harassment of any marine mammal, and the import, export, and sale of these animals, or parts or products derived from them, within the United States. But today’s amended Act allows for the harming of marine mammals-even individuals of endangered or threatened species, such as polar bears, or those “warranted” for Endangered Species Act listing, like walruses-if the Fish Wildlife Service determines the harm affects small numbers, has a “negligible impact” on species, and has no “unmitigable adverse impact” on subsistence use. Such is not the case here. The government, in its draft Environmental Assessment (EA), acknowledges the possibility of unpredictable effects of spills and waste on polar bear and Pacific walrus populations already in peril. An example scenario, one of several detailed in the EA, is “that an oiled [walrus] calf will be unrecognizable to its mother either by sight or by smell, and be abandoned. However, the greater threat may come from an oiled calf that is unable to swim away from the contamination and a mother that would not leave without the calf, resulting in the potential exposure of both animals.” /p
pAnd the other sea animals normally caught by these animals as prey, the EA acknowledges, might die immediately. Even greater is the potential harm caused by well blowouts, as the EA further acknowledges. Polar bears and walruses cannot afford the risk. This risk is not insignificant. /p
pThe Service claims “any impacts associated with an operational spill are expected to be limited to a small number of animals”; yet the effects of activities enabled through the proposal, including icebreaking, exploratory boring and drilling, seismic surveys, platform and pipeline surveys-and even the deploying of marine mammal observation vessels to mitigate the disturbances-pose significant risks for marine mammals. The effects of the prospecting, for example, could interrupt nursing, and particles could obstruct the mammals’ breathing; and the effect on these mammals can in turn be expected to affect other animals in the biome./p
pstrongImpacts of prospecting, including icebreaking, as a cumulative hazard to the marine mammals/strong/p
pExacerbating climate change in any way could also have a severe impact on the already threatened polar bears; thus, cumulative harms to the mammals themselves are potentially far more serious than the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Service have outlined. /p
pRelevant here is the recent NASA-sponsored discovery of a large algal bloom below the ice of the Chukchi Sea. Such a bloom was previously thought impossible. It completely changes what we know about Arctic ecosystems, and it’s a stark sign of climate change in the far north./p
p”The effect would benefit bottom-feeding species, to the detriment of species that feed in the water column,” according to The Stanford Report. “And, as algal blooms are able to occur earlier in the year, animals that depend on timing their behavior to ‘pulses’ in algal productivity may be left out in the cold.”/p
pstrongCumulative impacts of prospecting, including icebreaking, as a climate hazard/strong/p
pWe strongly appreciate the Council on Environmental Quality’s recent proposal that federal agencies should determine the climate impacts of proposed federal actions subject to the National Environmental Policy Act. We assert that the proposed regulation runs contrary to the Act’s goal of “productive harmony” between humans and the human environment.[1] As well as presenting a hazard to Pacific walruses and polar bears, the permission for prospecting, with its attendant icebreaking, may enable further shrinking of an area already significantly impacted by global warming.[2] Finally, the sought-after oil and natural gas themselves are key factors in climate disruption’s anthropogenic causes. /p
pIn our opinion, the CEQ’s draft guidance indicates that the request brought by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association warrants a full Environmental Impact Statement process rather than the use of Environmental Assessments which might be reduced to formalities in the normal course of business under the Act./p
pJust as extinct animals can never be brought back, ice is irreplaceable once broken. And not only does it serve as essential habitat for polar bears and Pacific walruses, but its very presence deflects the greenhouse effect that will otherwise change our planet’s climate. As ice breaks up, the earth retains more heat. A warming Alaska is a land where forests are increasingly susceptible to bark beetles, which in turn threaten the balance of nature on the land. Ice itself, as things turn out, might be more valuable to any and all animal species, including our own, than oil or any commodity. /p
pstrongConclusion/strong/p
pWe laud the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and join the federal government in celebrating its 40-year history. Simultaneously, we declare our opposition to the proposed “Incidental Take of Polar Bears and Pacific Walruses in the Chukchi and Bering Seas and Adjacent Coast of Alaska During Oil and Gas Industry Activities for 5 Years,” for we find its effect on the Act is detrimental. We ask the government to consider the cumulative impacts of prospecting as a climate hazard-as well as a hazard to Pacific walruses and polar bears. We call on the Interior Department to consider the greenhouse emissions involved in prospecting in the Arctic region. And we urge the Interior Department to work with the CEQ to energize a return to the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s original policy ideals. /p
pVery truly yours,/p
pLee Hallbr /
Legal Directorbr /
Friends of Animals/p
pCc: Jay Tutchton, General Counsel, WildEarth Guardians/p
p[1] 42 U.S.C. §4331(a). Notably, as I write, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just opened its Climate Change Adaptation Plan, including input from 11 agencies and offices, for public comment. The plan, as announced electronically by Stephanie Chan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Deputy Press Secretary, on 7 February 2013, “advances President Obama’s efforts to prepare the federal government for climate change.” By issuing permits for icebreaking in the Arctic, FWS would be thwarting efforts for such preparations./p
p[2] Also notable here is the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s particular consideration for Native Alaskans-people affected more directly than most of us by the breakdown of Arctic ice and increasing sea levels. We note the related contradiction in using the Act to permit icebreaking and other harms to the Alaskan coastal biome./p

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