Hearing set for critical habitat for ringed, bearded seals

NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment through March 9 on proposed critical habitat in the northern Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas essential for the lifestyles of Arctic ringed seals and the Beringia distant population segment of bearded seals.

The proposed critical habitat provides sea ice conditions essential ringed and bearded seal pupping, nursing, basking and molting, as well as primary prey resources to support these seals.

For bearded seals, the proposed critical habitat also provides acoustic conditions allowing for effective communication for breeding purposes.

NOAA notes that the principal consequence of critical habitat designations is that federal agencies are required to ensure that actions they authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.

The Endangered Species Act contains an exemption for Alaska Natives from the act’s take prohibitions. The proposed critical habitat designations would not affect subsistence harvest of these species by Alaska Natives, they said.

The hearings will be Feb. 23 for the Yukon-Kuskokwim and Southwest Alaska, Feb. 24 for the Northwest Arctic Borough and northern Bering Sea, and Feb. 25 for the North Slope Borough.

The conference call line for all three hearings is 800-201-3962 and the conference code 651174.

Submit comments electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal:

Ringed seals: regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0114

Bearded seals: regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2020-0029

Mail written comments to Jon Kurland, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources, Alaska Region, NMFS, Attn: James Bruschi, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.