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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Threatened’ Listing for Polar Bears Upheld

(CN) - The D.C. Circuit upheld the threatened species listing for polar bears, rejecting challenges from groups that said the listing was too restrictive or not protective enough.

In 2008, at the prompting of the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar as a threatened species due to the effects of global climate change.

Several industry groups and environmental organizations challenged the listing as either going too far or not far enough in protecting the animals.

A federal judge rejected all challenges in 2011, and the three-judge appellate panel in Washington, D.C., upheld that decision Friday.

Senior Circuit Judge Harry Edwards said the listing's challengers "neither pointed to mistakes in the agency's reasoning nor adduced any data or studies that the agency overlooked." Nor did they challenge the agency's findings on climate science or polar bear biology, he added.

The listing is based on a three-part thesis, according to the ruling: "the polar bear is dependent upon sea ice for its survival; sea ice is declining; and climactic changes have and will continue to dramatically reduce the extent and quality of Arctic sea ice to a degree sufficiently grave to jeopardize polar bear populations."

"No part of this thesis is disputed and we find that FWS's conclusion - that the polar bear is threatened within the meaning of the [Endangered Species Act] - is reasonable and adequately supported by the record," Edwards concluded in the 36-page ruling.

Groups that opposed the listing included the state of Alaska, a hunting group called Safari Club International and the Congress of Racial Equality.

Environmentalists, who fought for endangered species status, said the threatened listing did nothing to decrease the emissions blamed for causing the polar bears' sea ice habitat to melt, and failed to halt oil and gas exploration in that habitat.

Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set aside 187,000 square miles of Alaska as critical habitat for the polar bear in 2010, the area includes some oil and gas exploration sites.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association argued in a 2011 lawsuit challenging the critical habitat designation that there was "no evidence of an overall decline in the global polar bear population or in its historical range."

But in Friday's ruling, Judge Edwards said the agency had "carefully and clearly explained how this particular habitat loss leaves this particular species likely to become endangered."

He said the evidence supports listing the species as threatened but not endangered.

The Endangered Species Act defines a threatened species as "any species which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

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