Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Lawsuit seeks to shield Alaska sea otter

Lawsuit seeks to shield Alaska sea otter

C 2006 The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A conservation group, alarmed at a decrease in the
number of sea otters in southwest Alaska, filed a lawsuit in federal court
on Tuesday to try to compel the government to designate critical habitat to
help the endangered species recover.

The lawsuit, filed by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity,
argues that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed an Aug. 9 deadline for
the designation under the Endangered Species Act. If granted, the
designation means that federal agencies must ensure activities in certain
areas do not harm the species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service generally is required to designate
critical habitat when a species is listed as endangered or within a year if
it can't be done immediately. The sea otter was put on the list in August

"Sea otters in southwest Alaska are in a grave situation with alarming and
ongoing population declines," the lawsuit says. "The absence of critical
habitat permits the degradation, modification, and destruction of habitat
essential to the Alaska sea otter's survival and recovery."

Douglas Burn, a wildlife biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife in Anchorage,
said while he can't comment on the lawsuit the agency is not ignoring the
issue. He said a team of experts is helping develop a recovery plan for the
sea otter and has discussed the role of critical habitat.

The 1,000-mile long Aleutian Island chain once had an estimated 75,000 sea
otters _ slightly more than the current statewide total.

Now, there are about 8,700 sea otters in the Aleutians and numbers for the
southwestern region, which includes the Aleutians, have dropped by more than
half, said Burn. There are an estimated 73,000 sea otters in the entire
state now.

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