Anchorage legislator moves to fight beluga habitat protection

January 28, 2010 

JUNEAU -- Anchorage Republican Rep. Charisse Millett filed a resolution Wednesday asking the Legislature to oppose the proposed federal designation of critical habitat in Cook Inlet for beluga whales.

The resolution could pass quickly. House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, referred it to only a single committee.

"The conservation benefits, which are entirely uncertain and speculative, are outweighed by the costs and impediments posed by designation of critical habitat in this instance in most, if not all, of the proposed designation area," said the resolution, which would be sent to the president, members of Congress, federal officials, and Alaska government leaders.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed designating more than 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the Inlet's beluga whales. According to federal estimates, the Inlet's beluga population has declined from 1,300 animals in 1979 to 321 in 2009. The Cook Inlet belugas were listed as endangered a little more than a year ago.

NMFS officials say the designation would require other federal agencies to consult with them before approving projects in the proposed critical habitat areas.

That could mean changes to projects like seismic drilling for offshore oil and gas, the federal regulators say, but they don't anticipate it will result in rejection of energy projects. The feds also said they don't plan to plan to scrutinize the state-managed salmon fisheries, although state fish and game officials are worried activists would sue to get federal involvement.

Read the full resolution and its list of objections to habitat designation at www.adn.com/alaskapolitics.

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