The Pacific walrus will not be designated as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday, reversing an Obama administration finding that the walrus deserved protections because of the effects of global warming and receding Arctic sea ice.
"Their thorough review, driven by the best available data and science, found that the population of Pacific walrus is robust and healthy, and has proven that it can adapt to the changing conditions in the Arctic," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"This decision will allow for the continued responsible harvest of Pacific walrus for subsistence and traditional uses by Alaska Natives," she added.
The decision came after a 12-month review of the Pacific walrus status after receiving a petition as far back as 2008 for listing the Arctic marine mammal as endangered because of the loss of habitat caused by lower levels of annual sea ice. The agency had denied the petition, saying there was no significant evidence to support making an emergency endangerment finding.
Many scientists blame the loss of Arctic sea ice on manmade global warming spurred by increasing carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the group that filed the initial petition, took the Fish and Wildlife Service to court nearly a decade ago. A settlement agreement was worked out in 2011, with a deadline for issuing a walrus rule set for Sept. 30, which the agency is addressing in the rulemaking sent to the Federal Register Wednesday.
The Center for Biological Diversity slammed the decision as a reflection of President Trump's denial of climate change, which it believes is reckless and harmful.
"This disgraceful decision is a death sentence for the walrus," said Shaye Wolf, the group's climate science director. "Walruses face extinction from climate change, and denying them critical protections will push them closer to the edge. The Trump administration's reckless denial of climate change not only harms the walrus and the Arctic but puts people and wildlife everywhere in danger."
The group was one one of the first that sued the Trump administration over the proposed route of Trump's planned border wall, which they argue would damage a number of protected habitats.