Justices Decline to Hear Polar Bear Habitat Challenge 

(CN) – The Supreme Court said Monday that it won’t hear an appeal from Alaska, the oil and gas industry and native interests against the government’s designation of more than 187,000 square miles in the state as critical habitat for polar bears.

The justices decision leaves in place a February 2016 Ninth Circuit ruling that said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed the law when it authorized the massive habitat in a coastal area larger than the state of California.

The Ninth Circuit ruling overturned a lower court decision.

In 2008, the agency designate polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency then had a year to designate a protected, critical habitat area for the bears. The designation means human activities can be restricted within the designated area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service eventually settled on an area called “the Slope,” which included land, sea ice and barrier islands within the critical habitat area.

Some local communities, including Barrow and Kaktovik, Alaska were left out of the designated area because of their population densities.

But Alaska officials and the other plaintiffs said the designation was too extensive and a prime example of federal overreach.

“A critical habitat designation covering over 187,000 square miles would greatly impact our entire state,” said Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth in a written statement. “All we ask is that the designation be legally justified through scientific evidence showing a connection between the habitat and the protection of the bears. That didn’t happen for all the areas designated in this case. The result is great economic impacts without evidence that it is actually necessary to protect the species.”

In January, the Fish and Wildlife Service released a revised plan for the recovery of polar bear populations, but it largely disappointed environmentalists because it failed to focus on what many see as the primary threat to bears — greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the decline of the sea ice habitat.

Instead it doubles down of conservation efforts, such as preventing contamination from spills, protecting dens and reducing conflicts with human populations.

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