Anchorage hires attorney for pending beluga negotiations

Posted: Friday, January 01, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has hired a former federal fisheries official to help negotiate through pending federal designation of critical habitat for Cook Inlet's beluga whales.

Attorney William Stelle of Seattle managed the endangered species listings of salmon from California to Canada.

Cook Inlet's belugas were estimated to number about 1,300 in the early 1980s, but the population plummeted to around 350 in the late 1990s.

Scientists blamed subsistence hunts, but Native hunters voluntarily curtailed their harvests in 1999 and the population hasn't rebounded.

The fisheries service listed the whales as endangered in 2008, and a few weeks ago proposed designating more than 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the whales.

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