VANCOUVER, May 17, 2013 /PRNewswire/ - The US National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) has announced it will conduct a 12-month assessment of the biological status of harbor seals in Southwest Alaska's Lake Iliamna, in response to the Center for Biological Diversity's (CBD) November 2012 submission of a "Petition to List Iliamna Lake Seal, a Distinct Population Segment of Pacific Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina richardsi) under the Endangered Species Act".
NMFS is the lead federal agency responsible for research, management and conservation of seals and other sea mammals in the United States. Under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), any party can petition the government to list a species as threatened or endangered. In response to the CBD's petition regarding Lake Iliamna seals, the NMFS has agreed to conduct a status review and consider the best scientific and commercial information available to determine whether a threatened or endangered species listing or designation of critical habitat is warranted.
In today's notice, NMFS stated "We have reviewed the petition, the literature cited in the petition, and other literature and information available in our files; we identified numerous factual errors, misquoted and incomplete references, and unsupported conclusions within the petition. Our review indicates that there is uncertainty and conflicting information specific to harbor seals in Iliamna Lake."
"In the past, NMFS has stated that it is not known whether Lake Iliamna seals are genetically isolated from other harbor seals in Bristol Bay," said Ron Thiessen, President & CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. ("Northern Dynasty" or the "Company") (TSX: NDM; NYSE MKT: NAK). "Now they have agreed that the question justifies additional assessment."Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Limited Partnership (the "Pebble Partnership" or "PLP") have invested a great deal of time and money studying environmental conditions in the Lake Iliamna area. and we support the research and conservation efforts of the US federal government. Ultimately, whether the Lake Iliamna seals are considered to be a distinct population segment or not, Northern Dynasty is confident that development of the project by the Pebble Partnership will not affect their habitat or their numbers." Lake Iliamna is located on the Alaska Peninsula approximately 15 miles south of the Pebble Project, and is connected to Bristol Bay via the Kvichak River. It is not known how long harbor seals have inhabited the lake or whether they are permanent residents, as harbor seals are known to migrate from salt water to fresh water in other parts of North America. The Pebble Partnership has collected scientific data on harbor seals in Lake Iliamna as part of its 27,000 page Environmental Baseline Document (EBD), which suggests that the seals experience no geographical barriers to movement between Lake Iliamna and Bristol Bay. PLP has submitted its technical review of the CBD's Lake Iliamna seal petition to NMFS and will continue to engage in public comment opportunities associated with the agency's 12-month status review process. "The fact is, whether or not this local seal population warrants a listing, they will not be affected by the Pebble Project," Thiessen said. "We appreciate that Lake Iliamna, its harbor seals and all the aquatic life it supports are important food and cultural resources for the Alaska Native people of the region. Pebble is developing a mine plan that will ensure these resources are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations, regardless of whether the Lake Iliamna seal population is considered distinct or not." To begin the status review, NMFS has opened a 60-day comment period ending on July 16 in an effort to collect information that addresses biological and other information that is known about the species, conservation efforts currently in place, whether the known threats (if any) rise to the level of supporting a listing, and ultimately whether Lake Iliamna harbor seals qualify as a distinct population segment. The NFMS status review of Lake Iliamna seals is due to be published in the Federal Register by November 2013. If the NFMS warrants a threatened or endangered listing for Lake Iliamna harbor seals under the ESA, the federal agency must then define critical habitat for the species within one year. A 'critical habitat' designation does not establish a preserve or refuge, but is defined as a specific geographic area that contains the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of a species. Before critical habitat is designated, careful consideration is given to impacts on specific areas, including potential economic impacts. About the Pebble Project The Pebble Project is an initiative of the Pebble Partnership to responsibly develop a globally significant copper, gold and molybdenum deposit in southwest Alaska into a modern, long-life mine, which will benefit not only the proponent, its partners and the people and culture of the State of Alaska, but also industries, suppliers and consultants locally and in the Lower 48 United States of America. The project is located 200 miles southwest of Anchorage on state land designated for mineral exploration and development. It is situated in a region of rolling tundra approximately 1,000 feet above sea-level, 65 miles from tidewater on Cook Inlet and presents favourable conditions for successful mine site and infrastructure development. The Pebble Project consists of the Pebble deposit, surrounding mineral claims and a stream of financing provided by Northern Dynasty's project partner Anglo American US (Pebble) LLC. The Pebble Partnership was established in July 2007 as a 50:50 partnership between a wholly-owned affiliate of Northern Dynasty and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anglo American plc. Both Northern Dynasty and Anglo American have equal ownership and direction of the Pebble Partnership. Under the terms of the Pebble Limited Partnership Agreement, Anglo American is required to elect to commit $1.5 billion in staged investments in order to retain its 50% interest in the Pebble Project. Funds provided by Anglo American are currently being invested in comprehensive exploration, engineering, environmental and socioeconomic programs toward the future development of the Pebble Project. About Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Northern Dynasty is a mineral exploration and development company based in Vancouver, Canada, which holds indirect interests in over 600 sq. miles of mineral claims in southwest Alaska, USA. Northern Dynasty's principal asset is a 50% interest in the Pebble Partnership, owner of the Pebble Project. The Pebble Project is an advanced-stage initiative to develop one of the world's most important mineral resources. Ronald W. Thiessen President & CEO ________________________________________________