An environmental group sued the Trump administration Thursday over its failure to list Pacific walruses as a threatened species because of diminished sea ice, the primary habitat of the marine mammals.
The lawsuit was filed seven years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that walruses deserve the additional protection of being declared threatened.
However, facing a court-ordered deadline for a final decision, the agency reversed course in October and said it could not conclude with certainty that walruses would be affected by ice loss because they have shown an ability to forage from shoreline resting areas.
Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, called the decision a deathblow for walrus off Alaska shores.
“Arctic ice is disappearing at a record rate, and walruses are suffering catastrophic habitat loss,” she said while announcing the lawsuit.
The Fish and Wildlife Service routinely does not comment on pending litigation, and an email request for comment was not immediately returned.
Proponents of offshore drilling oppose the listing in part because it could add to regulatory requirements. They also dispute the conclusions regarding the threat to walruses.
In October, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that climate models showing the Chukchi Sea between northwest Alaska and Russia could be ice-free in summer by 2060, but said walruses had shown an ability to adapt.
“Walrus demonstrated much more ability to change their behaviors than previously thought,” said Patrick Lemons, the agency’s marine mammals management chief in Alaska.
Jeffers, however, said walruses need sea ice for more than foraging. They use it for birthing, nursing calves and molting.
“We’re confident the court will see this reckless finding as a politically driven decision that completely ignores the agency’s legal obligations to protect imperiled wildlife,” Jeffers said.