By Mark Thiessen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A federal judge on Friday ruled that a federal fisheries agency improperly listed bearded seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
In sending the decision back to the agency, U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline in Fairbanks said the December 2012 decision to list the seals because of a loss of sea ice was improper and "an abuse of discretion."
Beistline found there was no discernible, quantified threat of extinction within the foreseeable future for the seals and that the agency found existing protections were adequate.
The listing, he said, had no effect other than making all other federal agencies consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service on actions that could jeopardize the seals throughout their range.
"A listing under the ESA based upon speculation, that provides no additional action intended to preserve the continued existence of the listed species, is inherently arbitrary and capricious," he wrote.
The state, Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the North Slope Borough sued after the agency added bearded seals and ringed seals in the Arctic Ocean to the threatened list.
Polar bears also are listed because of a loss of sea ice. The state did not challenge the listing of ringed seals, the main prey of polar bears.
"We are pleased the court agreed that the listing of the bearded seal was not warranted," Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty said in a statement. "The listing was based solely on speculative 100-year projections that lacked any credible scientific evidence."
A message sent to federal fisheries officials seeking comment wasn't immediately returned.