Federal Judge Vacates Ringed Seal Listing Under Endangered Species Act

Press Release

Listing Centered on 100-year Projections of Climate Change Effects

Anchorage, AK — A Stoel Rives legal team led by Ryan Steen and Jeff Leppo notched a significant win on March 11, 2016, when U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) listing of the arctic ringed seal as a threatened species did not meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. In doing so, Judge Beistline highlighted the “lack of any articulated discernible, quantified threat of extinction within the reasonably foreseeable future” provided by NMFS in support of the listing.

The NMFS issued the final rule listing the arctic ringed seal as threatened in December 2012, on the basis of a projected loss of sea ice from an increase in Arctic temperatures based on climate change projections extending to 2100. In a consolidated lawsuit, Stoel Rives’ clients the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), along with Alaska Native groups and the State of Alaska, argued that the listing was not supported by scientific evidence, with no data showing how the seals would respond to climate change, nor any data on the relationship between sea ice conditions and the health and population of the seals. Judge Beistline agreed.

"In the absence of evidence of the current population level, the lack of projected decline in that population and the failure to define an extinction threshold, the evidence is insufficient to support a finding that the Arctic ringed seals are threatened with extinction in the foreseeable future," Judge Beistline said in the order.

AOGA applauded the decision in a press release. “This decision is good news for the oil and gas industry, Alaska Natives, and the State of Alaska as a whole,” said Kara Moriarty, President/CEO of AOGA. “The ringed seal currently have a healthy population and abundantly healthy habitat. Listing species based on speculative 100-year projections sets a terrible, and frankly scary, standard for the ESA process. We’re pleased to see such overreach rejected.”

Leppo and Steen, along with Jared Wigginton, represented AOGA and API in the case. The team also represented AOGA and API in the successful challenge to NMFS’ threatened listing of the bearded seal under the ESA, in a case decided by Judge Beistline in July 2014.

The case is Alaska Oil and Gas Association et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al., Case No. 4:14-cv-00029. A link to Judge Beistline's order, issued March 11, 2016, is available here (PDF).

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