WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge upheld a final agency rule banning the importation of polar bear trophies, but criticized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a related case for not analyzing the potential environmental impacts of listing the bears as a threatened species.
The hotly contested decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) spawned litigation filed by several groups like Safari Club International, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Safari Club argued that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) allows hunters to import polar bear trophies from “approved populations in Canada.” Other groups with oil-drilling interests maintained that the act already provides protection to the bears, and said the government is overstepping its bounds to protect polar bear habitats at the expense of oil and gas exploration.
The sport hunters wanted a ruling that the agency violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by prohibiting the importation of bear trophies because the species “was never properly designated as depleted.”
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan disagreed, saying the agency made the right call under the MMPA by banning trophy importation and striking down all pending permits to import them.
The Alaskan oil and gas industry fought to separate polar bear conservation and global climate change, but Sullivan backed the service, which found that protecting Arctic sea ice was vital to conserving polar bears.
“The court understands plaintiffs’ frustration,” Sullivan said, of the Alaskan oil and gas industry. “However, as this court has previously observed, climate change poses unprecedented challenges of science and policy on a global scale, and this Court must be at its most deferential where the agency is operating at the frontiers of science.”
Sullivan rejected the industry’s claims that the service arbitrarily, concluded that conserving polar bears is related to conserving Arctic sea ice, which is vulnerable to global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The judge also agreed that the service failed to assess the potential environmental impacts of its rule, striking it down until the agency makes the required assessments.