Appeals Court Restores Critical Habitat for Polar Bears in Alaska


A 187,000 square-mile swath of land and sea in Alaska was restored by a federal appeals court as a “critical habitat” for polar bears, a boon for the endangered species and yet another blow to Alaska’s tumbling petroleum industry.

Monday’s ruling overturned a lower court decision siding with Alaska state officials and energy industry groups which argued that protections for the bears ordered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service six years ago were too arbitrary be enforced.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco will affect all proposed greenfield and expansion projects along the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska and east of Russia. Existing projects are likely to be grandfathered in, said Brendan Cummings, a lawyer for the Center of Biological Diversity in Joshua Tree, California, representing environmental groups involved in the case.

“This is a critical decision for polar bears and the issue of climate change,” Cummings said. “But it’s not an absolute prohibition on activity and in my experience, and as a practical matter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rarely sees a project they don’t like.”

The polar bear population has been declining for at least a decade, falling to under 1,000 in the disputed region as of 2010 when the federal wildlife agency first imposed the critical habitat rule.

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, Kartikay Mehrotra and Jennifer A Dlouhy

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