Friday, October 17, 2008

Beluga Whales v. Sarah Palin: The Whales Have It!

What an exciting day to come home, open my e-mail, and find that the Center for Biological Diversity and co-plaintiffs succeeded in getting the Cook Inlet (AK) beluga whales--a geographically isolated and genetically distinct group from the other four stocks of belugas in Alaska (Note: previous link is dead, go here)--onto the endangered species list. They were added to the list today by the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries List (NMFS).

This is no small victory, and it is one that GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin predictably--and personally--tried to stop. Mark one for the whales, one for the polar bears and zero for Palin. And the crowd goes wild!

Go ahead, give a rousing cheer! This is a very important victory, and a long-awaited one.

Here's a map of Cook Inlet showing major tributaries, care of Wikipedia. The tributaries are important given the information found on Wiki regarding Palin, Chevron, the beluga whales and their population status.

Wiki has this to say about the history of Palin and the belugas:

Palin has opposed, on economic grounds, the designation of the Cook Inlet beluga whale as an endangered species.[141] Palin cited state scientists who claimed that hunting was the only factor causing the whales' decline and that the hunting has been effectively controlled through cooperative agreements with Alaska Native organizations.[142] Recent research states that hunting controls have halted the decline of beluga whales in Cook's Inlet but that the population remains severely depleted and at high risk of extinction.[143][144] As governor, Palin allowed Chevron to increase the quantity of industrial waste it allows to flow into Cook Inlet waters.[145] Federal scientists do not attribute the decline in the Cook Inlet beluga population to human pollution.[143] However, the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale was declared an endangered species by the Bush Administration over the objections of Governor Palin on October 17,
2008. [146] [147]

The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Associated Press (link takes you to the Center for Biological Diversity, scroll down) all have articles on today's listing.

Interestingly, as pointed out in the LA Times article:

The Cook Inlet beluga population, one of five populations recognized in U.S. waters, is the most urban. More than half of Alaska's human population lives in Anchorage and surrounding areas, releasing minimally treated municipal sewage and polluted urban runoff into the inlet. Other potential stresses on the beluga population are offshore oil and gas development, two busy ports with ship traffic, an active salmon gill net fishery and predation from killer whales, federal scientists said. "We have a dozen oil rigs in the inlet now and municipal waste that gets primary treatment only," Mahoney said. More offshore oil development is under consideration for Cook Inlet, which lies between the Alaska and Kenai peninsulas.
--Los Angeles Times, 10-17-08

Forgive me the obvious, but instead of earmarks for bridges to nowhere, perhaps Palin and the state's congressional members need to tackle tertiary treatment of their damn municipal waste instead of dumping it in the ocean ( Cook's Inlet). Maybe instead of returning oil tax revenues to the people of Alaska, then getting earmarks from your tax dollars and mine to pay for it, they need to pay for it themselves, just like we have to do here in CA.

Economic growth should approved only with needed infrastructure (e.g. tertiary treatment of municipal wastes, including sewage, road infrastructure, etc.) paid for and in place. That is the responsible way to approach land use and mining (read mining and oil drilling) . It is not responsible to approve development then later (if ever) build the required infrastructure at someone else's cost, theirs, mine or yours.

Here is Palin's statement on the issue in August 2007:

“Our scientists feel confident that it would be unwarranted to list Cook Inlet belugas now,” Governor Palin said. “Seven years ago, NMFS determined that these whales weren’t endangered, and since then, we’ve actually seen the beginnings of an increase in their population. We are all doing everything we can to help protect these important marine mammals.” “I am especially concerned that an unnecessary federal listing and designation of critical habitat would do serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of the Cook Inlet area,” Palin said. “Hundreds of thousands of people who live in this area know that we are taking excellent care of the environment and habitat there. For example, annual salmon runs in recent years are higher than they were when the beluga population was larger, in the 1970s. This wouldn’t be possible without effective conservation efforts.”

If Palin is so good at negotiating with oil companies, once she returns to Alaska as governor, let her negotiate higher environmental standards than those existing to protect not only the waters but the wildlife. Chugging minimally treated muni waste into any water body is beyond the pale. How is it that Alaska's environmental standards are so lax?

The Anchorage Daily News ran this piece today. Note the complete lack of information and quotes from the supporting side of this issue. Hmmmf.

Just in case, like me, you would like to thank these fine groups (and perhaps send them a few bucks to keep up the good work) that took on the issue, here they are, with contact info. Send 'em some love, folks, they are doing great work!

Let your fingers and wallets do a happy dance! These folks deserve our praise and support.

Center for Biological Diversity
Alaska Center for the Environment
Cook Inletkeeper
North Gulf Oceanic Society (e-mail is )
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (e-mail is: