Thursday, August 13, 2009

Protecting blue whales : Environmental group threatens lawsuit over federal plan for these giants of the sea


August 13, 2009 6:59 AM

The Environmental Defense Center gave 60-day notice Wednesday of its intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service under the 1973 Endangered Species Act for allegedly failing to implement provisions of the Blue Whale Recovery Plan.

The recovery plan was approved in July 1998, and the alleged failure of the fisheries service to implement provisions for the plan would constitute a violation of the Act, according to the the letter.

Environmental Defense Center lawyers claim the fisheries service has failed to implement the three elements of the recovery plan: "a description of site-specific management actions that may be necessary to recover the species; objective and measurable criteria that when met, would result in a determination that the species be removed from the list and estimates of the time and cost required to carry out those measures needed to recover the species and to achieve intermediate steps toward that goal."

Lawyers also listed alleged violations of the Act committed by the fisheries service, including failure to establish criteria for delisting or downlisting blue whales, failure to designate a blue whale implementation coordinator, failure to determine stock structure of blue whales using genetic analysis, failure to identify and implement methods to reduce ship collisions with blue whales, failure to identify and protect essential blue whale habitat and failure to conduct studies of environmental pollution.

According to Brian Segee, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center, the changes needed should not be so ominous as to be off-putting for the fisheries service.

"Some should be quite easy," he said. "Other tasks are more intensive; none of them are burdensome."

The notice states Environmental Defense Center officials "would welcome the opportunity to meet with NMFS and other appropriate government officials to discuss the issues..."

"This is by no means hostile," said Mr. Segee. "It's more an issue of bureaucratic inertia."

According to the notice, "if the alleged legal violations are not remedied within 60 days, we intend to pursue judicial relief in federal district court."

It is the hope of the Environmental Defense Center that the fisheries service will begin to implement the recovery plan without the prompting of court intervention before those 60 days end.

Since 1992, the Santa Barbara Channel has held the densest population of the species, which has been endangered since establishment of the Endangered Species Act.

In September 2007, four blue whales were killed in ship strikes in the channel.

It was these ship strikes that prompted the Environmental Defense Center to "look into the rash of things," according to Mr. Segee.

"The fisheries services has essentially let this plan sit on the shelf and gather dust," he said.

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