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Largest Critical Habitat in History Proposed

Designation of Critical Habitat for the Arctic Ringed Seal

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a critical habitat definition for Arctic ringed seals covering 350,000 square miles — the largest designation in history — in the northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas.  The proposed rule notes that the seals and their habitat could be adversely affected by a variety of oil and gas activities, including seismic surveys, drilling operations and potential oil spills. A NOAA spokeswoman said that oil and gas activities will have to consider the seals’ habitat, but pointed out that such activity occurs in other areas with listed species, including whales and polar bears. The government listed the Arctic ringed seal — which live in the water but use sea ice for resting, birthing and nursing — as threatened nearly two years ago. NMFS is taking comments for 90 days, and will hold four public hearings in Alaska.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Kara Moriarty noted the massive size of the proposed area and added: “AOGA’s initial concern is ensuring that the designated critical habitat is properly tailored to the legitimate needs of a listed species.  It is difficult to imagine that is the case for this critical habitat designation as this would set a record for the largest area of designated critical habitat.”

Federal Register: http://1.usa.gov/11Q2KVM

Map: http://1.usa.gov/1rW02Vt

Comment Deadline: March 3, 2015