Wolf Song of Alaska News

Threatened Belugas Don't Really Threaten Economic Development

Letters / Anchorage Daily News / December 17, 2006

As a retired biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I'm writing to correct the misperceptions in Paula Easley's recent column on the Cook Inlet beluga whale ("Listing belugas could impede activities," Dec. 2). Ms. Easley stated that listing the beluga whale as endangered or threatened would impede industrial development in Cook Inlet. Supporting data were not presented.

The Endangered Species Act requires consultation with federal agencies to ensure development activities do not jeopardize endangered or threatened species. A Government Accountability Office report for 1987-1991 shows that 89 percent of all Endangered Species Act consultations were resolved through an informal process. Of the 10 percent that required formal consultation, more than 91 percent concluded that development would not harm any listed species. Of the remaining projects, 87 percent found alternatives that allowed a project to proceed. All told, this left 23 of 18,211 projects that would jeopardize a listed species and had no reasonable alternative -- less than 0.2 percent. Other reports are similar.

For 1987-1995, an estimated 600 jeopardy or adverse modification findings were made in consultations on 186,000 projects -- less than 0.4 percent.

For 1998-2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported 420 jeopardy opinions for more than 300,000 consultations.

Contrary to Ms. Easley's unsupported assertions, numbers compiled since enactment of the Endangered Species Act show it poses little threat to responsible development.

---- Jack Lentfer / Homer

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