Years after being placed on the Endangered Species List, the threatened sea otters of southwest Alaska have finally been given some habitat protection, writesMary Pemberton of the Associated Press.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 5,855 acres of critical habitat for the federally protected sea otters of southwest Alaska. This includes nearshore areas in the Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea and Alaska Peninsula, where much of the species’ most vital shallow cuisine thrives.
This is big news for environmental groups who have been fighting for nearly a decade to save the rapidly declining keystone species, which many believe plays a critical role in the health of marine ecosystems. In August 2000, the Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned to have Alaska’s sea otters listed under the Endangered Species Act, but it was not until 2005 — and two lawsuits later — that sea otters in southwest Alaska finally received that protection. By that time, some regions had experienced up to 90 percent declines in otter populations. Alaska is currently estimated to have about 90 percent of the world’s population of northern sea otters.
What’s important to note is that the Endangered Species Act requires habitat protection from the moment an animal is first listed. Many have questioned why it took so long for this to happen. What hasn’t helped is the antagonistic relationship between southwest sea otters and area fishermen, who have long blamed the fuzzy creatures for the region’s collapsing fisheries.
— Natasha Walker