Critical Habitat for the SW Alaska Sea Otter DPS

February 17, 2009

(Submitted Online)

The Resource Development Council for Alaska (RDC) appreciates the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed Critical Habitat designation for the Southwest Alaska Distinct Population Segment of the northern sea otter. 

RDC is a statewide, non-profit, membership-funded organization founded in 1975.  The RDC membership is comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism, and fisheries industries, as well as Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms.  RDC’s purpose is to link these diverse interests together to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

Subsection (5)(C) of Section 3 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) states “. . . critical habitat shall not include the entire geographical areas which can be occupied by the threatened or endangered species.”  We feel 15,000 square kilometers is excessive and the proposed critical habitat areas should be significantly decreased.

Sea otters have long lived in conjunction with fishing, transportation, oil & gas development, and other related activities.  Indeed the most likely cause of decline of this stock of sea otters is through orca predation.  As was demonstrated through the recent stellar sea lion example, the impacts to the economy and the welfare of the people living in the affected areas through the designation of such excessive critical habitat could be extreme.

The ESA specifically allows for areas to be excluded from critical habitat for economic reasons.  Subsection (2) of Section 4 of the ESA, “The Secretary may exclude any area from critical habitat if he determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat, unless he determines, based on the best scientific and commercial data available, that the failure to designate such area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species concerned.”

In specific, RDC requests the Secretary exclude the following areas of proposed critical habitat from the final rule for economic considerations, as doing so will not lead to the extinction of this stock of sea otters:

  1. Areas surrounding activities relating to existing fishing and transportation on islands, including, but not limited to:  Attu, Atka, Adak, Unalaska, Akutan, Kodiak and Afognak.  Fishing alone is often the largest taxpayer for many coastal communities.  Over 50% of our nation’s total fishing catch comes through these ports.
  2. Areas immediately surrounding established villages and existing transportation access for the villages in the area.  Barging is a lifeline to many communities in this area, and jobs in transportation are vital.
  3. Areas where State of Alaska oil & gas leases have been issued, including but not limited to, Herendeen Bay and Port Moller.  These areas are likely rich in natural gas and continued access may improve the nation’s domestic energy situation, provide needed economic stimulus to coastal communities and the state, and generate new jobs for local residents.
  4. Areas in western Cook Inlet, into the Lake Iliamna area from Williamsport which will be used for fuel and supplies for residents as well as for potential large scale mining projects, including the Pebble Project which could bring needed economic diversification into the region.
  5. Areas used for access by logging transportation around the Kodiak archipelago, including, but not limited to Kazikof Bay on Afognak Island.  The presence of ship mooring buoys, log storage areas, and log transfer facilities are essential to logging.   Nearly 40 million board feet per year generating 100 logging and related longshoreman jobs on Afognak are a major source of income for the village of Ouzinkie, where other economic opportunities are extremely limited.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.