Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin has questioned scientific evidence that the beluga whale population in the waters near Anchorage is declining. In fact last summer she urged the federal government not to list the whale as endangered, citing concerns of what a listing might do to the Cook Inlet economy.
But today the U.S. Government replied with a decisive counter, declaring the beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet an endangered species. The findings by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration trigger a rigorous regimen to protect the whales, dwindled to an estimated 375 from their 1995 high of 653.
The decision by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service could trump a decision by the U.S. Interior Department to make oil leases available on Cook Inlet, where energy analysts see an estimated $1.38 billion worth of resources.
"In spite of protections already in place, Cook Inlet beluga whales are not recovering," said James Balsiger, NOAA's acting assistant administrator. The agency added that oil and gas exploration had hindered the whale's existence.
As the Associated Press noted, this is the second run-in Palin has had with the Bush administration over the Endangered Species Act. Earlier, the governor, now Republican vice presidential candidate, had asked the courts to overturn an Interior Department decision declaring polar bears threatened.
-- Johanna Neuman