Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Natives Decry Polar Bear Habitat Designation

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) - The U.S. government rolled over companies and communities of Native Alaskans in designating critical habitat for the threatened polar bear, a federal complaint claims.

A tribal government, a local borough and 10 Native Alaskan-owned corporations say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's habitat designation for the bear - the largest ever - does not address actual threats to the species.

The natives, including the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., North Slope Borough and Inupiat Community, say the designation will impede their oil and gas activities, causing economic losses.

Fish and Wildlife apparently determined that the bears, which number 20,000 to 25,000 worldwide, faced their primary threat from loss of sea ice due to climate change. The final rule also said that on-the-ground oil and gas exploitation does not pose a threat, the groups claim.

"The service concluded that the designation of critical habitat for polar bears will provide no conservation benefit to the polar bear species," the lawsuit states.

Last year's habitat designation, at 187,157 acres, is larger than all U.S. states except Texas and Alaska, the natives point out.

It includes less than 1 percent of native lands, they add. The designation includes areas with no conservation value, and arbitrarily included four native communities while excluding others, they claim.

Negative effects of the designation are even less fair since native communities have been key partners in conserving polar bears, according to the complaint.

Native companies and communities claim the service did not consult them or properly balance their needs in the declaration.

They seek injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act and Administrative Procedures Act. They are represented by Kevin Cuddy with Feldman, Orlansky & Sanders.

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