State seeks PR firm to fight endangered listings

Posted: Friday, December 18, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Legislature is seeking a public relations firm to help the state persuade Congress to limit the Endangered Species Act.

Alaska has put aside $1.5 million for the public relations campaign and an Alaska conference on climate change. The conference would focus on the negative economic impact of endangered species listings based on climate change. Lawmakers note as an example the polar bear designation as a threatened species.

"The (PR firm's) main role will be taking information from the conference and other information gathering efforts and trying to initiate a grass-roots movement, for lack of a better term, for going to Congress and asking for some reform changes," said Eddie Grasser, a legislative employee who is organizing the PR effort.

An Anchorage lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity says it looks as if the Legislature is organizing a panel to reach a preordained conclusion.

"The costs in Alaska of allowing climate change to progress unabated will dwarf any possible expenses that could accompany the (Endangered Species Act) listing of species," Rebecca Noblin said.

She said the state should instead focus its efforts on tackling the threat of climate change to Alaska, including erosion of coastal communities and declining species important for subsistence.

The money for the conference and public relations effort was originally appropriated in 2008 by Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, and then-Wasilla Republican Sen. Lyda Green. The plan was to highlight scientific research that went against the prevailing scientific view of climate change impact on polar bears.

It was controversial and the conference never happened, but the idea is back on the agenda with the Legislative Council signing off on spending the $1.5 million.

This time, Alaska will work with other states seeking the same changes to the Endangered Species Act, Glasser said.

"It's not challenging the idea that maybe we need to do something about climate change but challenging the idea that the (Endangered Species Act) is the tool to use in doing that," he said.

The Interior secretary under former President George W. Bush, Dirk Kempthorne, listed polar bears as threatened after summer sea ice levels melted to their lowest on record.

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