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A half-dozen conservation organizations today plan to file a petition under a little-known state law seeking to have Cook Inlet beluga whales declared an endangered species Conservation groups filed a request to have the whales listed as a federal endangered species this spring The National Marine Fisheries Service has until next spring to make a decision on that request but representatives for the groups said they decided to seek a state designation under Alaskas Endangered Species law to add another layer of protection for the belugas Jack Sterne an attorney for the environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska said state Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue will have 30 days to either reject the petition or schedule hearings on the request The federal process takes more time and is more cumbersome A handful of animals and birds have been designated endangered under the state statute after making the federal list Sterne said this may be the first time anyone has petitioned the state to list a species that has not already been so designated by the federal government Biologists say Cook Inlet belugas are a distinct population and their numbers have plummeted from an estimated 650 in 1994 to about 350 last summer Federal biologists are still analyzing population surveys taken last summer Increased harvest by Native hunters is believed to have caused the decline but Kris Balliet Alaska director of the Center for Marine Conservation said other human activity in and around the Inlet may hamper the whales ability to recover Noise and discharges from oil and gas platforms competition from commercial fishermen for food sources like hooligan and salmon pollution from Anchorages water and wastewater treatment plant urban and industrial runoff and increased
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