Alaska: America’s Endangered Species Act battleground
The Endangered Species Act may be one of the most powerful environmental laws ever enacted, but Alaskans don’t like it. The ongoing disagreements over ESA implementation in Alaska commonly appear on the pages of ESA blawg. The battles are reaching a new fevered pitch, with the Alaskan governor making it a major part of his workload. In a recent article, Jill Burke dug deep on the subject, noting that Alaska is even forming coalitions with other states to team up against perceived federal overreaching. See Alaskan Dispatch. Another recent mainstream news article discussed the ongoing battle of Alaska vs. sea lions. See Newsweek. Interestingly, in the grand scheme of the ESA, Alaska does not have all that many listed species, with 14 endangered species, 5 threatened species, and 10 species in various stages of consideration for protection under the ESA. See Alaska Department of Fish and Game pages. But the habitat for many of these species – such as the polar bear – cover very broad areas and ecosystems, making the effects of species listing in Alaska particularly widespread.
Outside of Alaska, however, perspectives are very different. When Alaska announced its opposition to the listing of the polar bear, Andrew Wetzler, Director of the NRDC Endangered Species Project, was quoted as saying that “The state of Alaska's response is disappointing, but certainly no surprise. They have taken their cues from industry every step of the way.” See Center for Biological Diversity press release. And this week, California’s largest legal news provider, named Kassie Siegel one of California’s 10 most influential lawyers of the decade. See The Daily Journal. To the obvious dismay of many Alaskans, Ms. Siegel earned her honors for her work in getting ESA protections for the polar bear, the first mammal protected because of threats from climate change.
The dueling perspectives provide interesting insights into the controversial nature of the ESA. Alaskans resent the intrusions and perceived arrogance of outsiders, while those people in turn see Alaskans as irresponsibly taking the state’s natural resources bounty for granted.
Photo from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Alaska Region