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NOAA removes the eastern Steller sea lion from the Endangered Species Act list


After public input and careful scientific review, NOAA Fisheries has found that the eastern distinct population segment of Steller sea lions has recovered and can be removed from the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This is the first species NOAA has delisted due to recovery since the eastern North Pacific gray whale was taken off the list of threatened and endangered species in 1994.

"We're delighted to see the recovery of the eastern population of Steller sea lions," said Jim Balsiger, Administrator of NOAA Fisheries' Alaska Region. "We'll be working with the states and other partners to monitor this population to ensure its continued health."

NOAA has concluded delisting is warranted because the species has met the recovery criteria outlined in its 2008 recovery plan and no longer meets the definition of a threatened or endangered species under the act. A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. An endangered species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The best available scientific information indicates the eastern Steller sea lion has increased from an estimated 18,040 animals in 1979 to an estimated 70,174 in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. Eastern Steller sea lions will continue to be protected under provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Steller sea lions were first listed as a threatened species under the ESA in 1990. In 1997, NOAA scientists recognized two distinct population segments of Steller sea lions: a western and an eastern segment. The eastern segment includes Steller sea lions from Cape Suckling, Alaska, south to California’s Channel Islands. The western population segment remains classified as endangered. NOAA is not proposing any changes to the status of the western Steller sea lion.

On June 29, 2010, NOAA Fisheries provided notice that it was initiating a status review of the eastern Steller sea lion and requested public comment. During the comment period, NOAA Fisheries received two petitions to delist the eastern Steller sea lion: one from the states of Washington and Oregon; and one from the State of Alaska. 

On April 18, 2012, NOAA released a draft status review, which underwent independent peer review and proposed to remove eastern sea lions from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. NOAA requested, received, and considered 1,144 public comments during the 60-day comment period. 

With the delisting, federal agencies proposing actions that may affect the eastern Steller sea lions are no longer required to consult with NOAA Fisheries under section 7 of the ESA. However, NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor the effects of proposed projects on the eastern population to ensure existing measures under the MMPA provide protection necessary to maintain recovered status.

NOAA Fisheries is proceeding carefully to ensure the eastern population segment remains strong. Working with affected states and other partners, NOAA has developed a post-delisting monitoring plan for this population. As a precautionary measure, the plan will be in effect for 10 years--twice the five year time requirement under the ESA. If implemented as intended, this plan takes the important steps necessary to maintain the recovered status of the eastern Steller sea lion. 

The delisting of the eastern Steller sea lion will take effect 30 days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register.

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