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Pacific Walruses Deserve Federal Protection, Stuck In Endangered Species Limbo
Extinction doesn’t wait, but the Pacific walrus will have to wait to receive federal protection.
In a disappointing turn of events, this animal will not be joining its Arctic neighbor, the polar bear, on the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges the walrus deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act, but does not consider the animal a high priority compared to other threatened plants and animals. Unfortunately, the Pacific walrus waits in a long line of over 250 species that are also candidates for federal protection – essentially, stuck in endangered species limbo.
Warmer temperatures are melting the sea ice Pacific walruses rely on for breeding, foraging, and protection from predators. As a result, these animals are forced to go on land more often, increasing competition for food, overcrowding, and the likelihood of young walruses being crushed in stampedes.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski balked at the idea of the Pacific walrus receiving protection as an endangered species. The lawmaker is siding with oil companies and other commercial interests in criticizing any federal protections for the animal. Similar complaints were also made when the polar bear was listed as an endangered species in 2008. The debate about federal protections pits oil companies and their supporters against people and wildlife: declining walrus populations could also hurt local economies where communities depend on them for food and other subsistence needs. Tourism dollars associated with wildlife viewing are also in jeopardy.
Even though the Pacific walrus has been waitlisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it can’t wait out the devastating effects of climate change in the Arctic.