By Tyson Kade
Alaska is beginning to experience the emerging application of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), with effects that are likely to increase in the coming years. While much media attention has been paid recently to addressing climate change on a global and national scale, advocacy groups have turned to an existing environmental law, the ESA, to address the impacts of climate change on plant and animal species in the Lower 48 States as well as in Alaska. The effects of the application of the ESA to climate change issues could be felt acutely in Alaska, far more than other states.
Currently, there are 20 Alaska species listed under the ESA, ranging from polar bear and bowhead whales in the north to beluga whales and sea otters in Southcentral and Southeast, with 10 additional species currently being considered for protection. Several of these species have been proposed recently based on the anticipated effects of climate change on their habitat, such as declining areas of sea ice coverage. While Alaska is no stranger to the ESA, the recent listing actions will bring increased federal involvement and oversight to activities and land use in the state. In response, the State of Alaska has filed lawsuits to challenge the federal government's listing of polar bear and Cook Inlet beluga whale under the ESA.
For landowners and companies seeking to do business in the state, the ESA carries compliance obligations that must be understood prior to conducting activities that may affect a threatened or endangered species. Due to the large amount of federal lands in Alaska and the types of development projects, such as natural resources exploration and extraction that require federal permits, the number of projects subject to ESA requirements will increase in the future as more species are listed under the ESA. As application of the ESA becomes more widespread, the associated compliance-related delays and project modifications could well increase the cost of doing business in Alaska.
This is the introduction of an article originally published in the August 2010 edition of Alaska Business Monthly. To access the full article, click here.