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State Objects to Expansive Critical Habitat Designation for Belugas

March 4, 2010, Juneau, Alaska - The State of Alaska filed comments with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration objecting to a proposal to designate more than one-third of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for beluga whales.

The proposed areas of critical habitat cover all of Anchorage and Mat-Su Borough's tidal waters and extend down Cook Inlet past the City of Kenai. The habitat also includes parts of Kachemak Bay near Homer and areas across the inlet from the Kenai Peninsula.

"While we understand that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires designation of critical habitat for beluga whales in Cook Inlet, we have concluded that this designation is unnecessarily broad and ignores protections already in place," Governor Sean Parnell said. "It has great potential for needlessly delaying or stopping responsible development projects throughout Cook Inlet."

"Our concerns with the analysis are three-fold," said Doug Vincent-Lang, the state's ESA coordinator. "First, there's a lack of specificity in the proposed habitat elements identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as important for beluga conservation and recovery. That is compounded by a failure to provide a more discrete analysis of the actual areas within the inlet that contain these elements.

"We also have serious concerns with the methodology used to estimate the cost of the proposed designation. The economic analysis grossly underestimates the true costs of the listing, making it impossible to determine whether certain areas should be considered for economic exclusion."

"Given the shortcomings of the NMFS' analysis and the harmful economic consequences that could result from an unnecessarily broad critical habitat designation, we ask that the NMFS revise its proposed critical habitat designation and provide another public comment period after the identified issues are addressed," concluded Governor Parnell. 


A copy of the state's comments on the proposed designation of critical habitat is available at:
http://gov.alaska.gov/parnell_media/documents/gov_GaryLocke.pdf

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