[MARMAM] NOAA Designates Critical Habitat for Cook Inlet Beluga Whale
Jonathan.Shannon at noaa.gov
Wed Apr 20 10:43:14 PDT 2011
*NOAA Designates Critical Habitat for Cook Inlet Beluga Whale*
NOAA's Fisheries Service announced April 8, 2011 it is designating two
areas of Alaska's Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the endangered Cook
Inlet beluga whale. Scientists estimate there are less than 350 Cook
Inlet beluga whales left in the wild. This distinct population segment
was listed as endangered in October 2008.
The critical habitat comprises 3,016 square miles (7,809 square
kilometers) of marine and estuarine environments considered by
scientists to be essential for the whales' survival. These areas contain
important biological and physical features for these cetaceans, such as
feeding areas near the mouths of salmon streams. Not all of the current
range of these whales was found to be critical.
The critical habitat designation, required under the Endangered Species
Act, only affects activities that involve a federal permit, license or
funding and which may affect critical habitat, such as construction and
operation of oil rigs, port construction, dredging, or Environmental
Protection Agency-authorized discharges into Cook Inlet.
One designated area includes the upper portions of Cook Inlet, Turnagain
Arm and Knik Arm where belugas concentrate in summer months. The other
area includes areas where the population congregates in the winter,
which includes the middle of Cook-inlet, foraging areas along the
western shore of lower Cook Inlet, and Kachemak Bay along east of Cook
Inlet near the town of Homer.
NOAA's Fisheries Service has excluded the Port of Anchorage from
critical habitat because of its importance to national security, and the
Eagle River Flats Range on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson because this
area provides benefit to beluga whales under an existing Department of
Defense Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan.
NOAA's Fisheries Service based its designation on the results of more
than 20 years of research, and has completed an economic analysis on the
critical habitat designation. That analysis found that benefits of the
designation to beluga whales exceeded the costs
NOAA's Fisheries Service developed the final rule after an extensive
public input process which included an initial 60-day comment period on
the proposed rule, which was extended an additional 30 days. Four public
hearings were also held. As a result of the public hearings and open
comment periods, more than 135,000 individual submissions were received.
The agency considered all public comments in developing the final rule,
and provided responses to all significant issues raised by respondents.
This rule will become effective 30 days after date of publication in the
Federal Register. The final rule, maps, status reviews, and other
materials supporting this final rule can be found at
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources
(301) 713-2319 x 117
jonathan.shannon at noaa.gov
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