Group Slams Attempt to Remove B.C. Orcas from Endangered List

By Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
December 4, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Epoch Times Photo
Killer whales swimming in the ocean. A California law firm is petitioning regulators to have southern resident killer whales removed from the U.S. endangered species list. (Captain Budd Christman/NOAA Corps)

A Vancouver-based conservation group is slamming the efforts of California farmers to get the killer whales that ply the waters between the U.S. and B.C. taken off the endangered species list.

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a law firm acting on behalf of two large California farms, has filed a “de-listing petition” calling on the U.S. government to end protection of southern resident killer whales under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The farmers allege regulations to protect fish that the whales eat are excessive and create an economic burden. They also say their water supplies are threatened by regulations due in part to the endangered listing.

The PLF has argued on the farmer’s behalf that the whales are genetically similar to a much larger population and therefore are not in danger of extinction.

In response, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Nov. 26 that it will begin a one-year review to consider dropping the southern resident killer whale population from the endangered species list.

Gwen Barlee, policy director for Wilderness Committee, said the argument that the whales are not distinct from a larger group is unfounded, adding that B.C. waters host three distinct groups of killer whales including residents, transients, and offshores.

“They think that killer whales are just one homogenous group, but scientists have repeatedly shown that they’re genetically distinct. The southern resident killer whales are geographically distinct and culturally distinct,” she says.

“I don’t think, unless science is going to be turned on its head, that this case will succeed.”

PLF attorney Damien Schiff says an assessment is needed on the endangerment of the entire population of killer whales, rather than focusing on one area.

“When a species as a whole isn’t endangered, government can’t pretend otherwise by narrowly focusing on one arbitrarily chosen region,” he said in a press release.

“The orca listing isn’t just bad science, it’s also bad for the economy.”

It is estimated that there are 86 whales remaining in the southern resident population, sometimes known as “Orcas of the Salish Sea.” According to the NOAA, when they were listed as endangered by the U.S. in 2005 they numbered just 89.

California’s Thirst for Water

Barlee says the case is symbolic of broader issues such as the decades-long battle over California’s notoriously dwindling water resources.

She claims the two California farmers hope to divert water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which flows through the state’s major agricultural region, to supply their farms. Such a diversion is currently not allowed because the waters are regulated fish habitat, protected as a food source for the endangered killer whales.

“This is about more than killer whales—this is about protection of wild salmon habitat, this is about what crops are appropriate to grow in California, and it’s also about the Pacific Legal Foundation which is notoriously anti-environmental—that is also being brought into this fight,” says Barlee.

The PLF—known for its advocacy of free enterprise and property rights, often in relation to environmental regulation—says its petition to delist the orcas is not “anti-whale” but instead “pro-farmer and pro-freedom.”

“Among those hurt by unjustified federal orca regulations are farmers and communities as far away as California’s San Joaquin Valley, and even the population of Southern California,” says Schiff.

“We simply can’t permit unjustified ESA listings to cause economic dislocation for families, farms, businesses, and communities.”

As well as the two farms, the PLF petition also represents the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability (CESAR), a non-profit corporation whose stated mission is to bring “scientific rigour” to environmental regulatory decisions.

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