The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in federal court last week calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate coastal waters off southwest Alaska as critical habitat for dwindling numbers of sea otters. If the court sides with environmentalists, the federal government would have to limit or ban oil drilling and other industrial activities in the area that could harm the long-term survival of the marine mammals, which were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2005 following declines of up to 90 percent.
Congress emphasized the importance of critical habitat designations to the success of species recovery when it originally passed the Endangered Species Act, and recent studies have shown that threatened wildlife is twice as likely to recover when its habitat is protected. But the Bush administration has only designated critical habitat areas for endangered species when its hand has been forced by litigation.
"Once again we are forced to ask the courts to require Bush administration officials to comply with the law," says Center for Biological Diversity attorney Miyoko Sakashita. "The Department of the Interior should be protecting Sea Otter habitat; instead, they are proposing oil drilling near it."
Earlier this year the White House proposed opening up areas of the Bering Sea off Southwest Alaska to offshore oil development, and it is also considering lifting a prohibition on oil drilling in nearby Bristol Bay. The Center for Biological Diversity contends that sea otters, which rely on their fur as insulation against their cold water habitats, are particularly vulnerable to oil spills.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity