The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today published a recovery plan for Alaska’s threatened southwest population of northern sea otters. The recovery plan, which spells out steps to avoid extinction and put the species on the road toward recovery, caps more than a decade of Center for Biological Diversity advocacy to win these otters full protection under the Endangered Species Act. “Sea otters in southwest Alaska have been in trouble for a long time and they deserve better,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director with the Center. “Implementing this recovery plan will go a long way toward guaranteeing there’s a future for sea otters in southwest Alaska and, ultimately, lifting federal protections.”
Fewer than 40,000 sea otters were estimated to exist in southwestern Alaska in 2005, down from more than 100,000 in the 1970s. Declines are most pronounced in the Aleutian Islands, where the population has dropped from more than 70,000 to fewer than 10,000 animals. The exact cause of the decline remains a mystery, but scientists have speculated that increased predation by killer whales may be a factor. Sea otters in the area are also threatened by possible oil spills, along with changes to the ecosystem due to global warming and overfishing.
In August 2000 the Center petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect sea otters in southwest Alaska under the Act. Two lawsuits and five years later, in August 2005, sea otters in this region finally received federal protections, following population declines of up to 90 percent in many areas.
But the fight to protect sea otters did not end there. In December 2006 the Center filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., challenging the Bush administration’s refusal to designate and protect critical habitat for sea otters, and in April 2007 the Center reached an agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the terms of the agreement, critical habitat for the otter was finalized by October 2009.
Federal wildlife agencies are required to issue and implement a plan for the conservation and recovery of all species protected under the Endangered Species Act. More....