October 20, 2012
Listing Polar Bears As Threatened Species Challenged In Court
April Flowers for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
The State of Alaska and a group of plaintiffs that include hunters and the California Cattlemen's Association, has appealed a federal court ruling from last year that upheld the 2008 Interior Department's designation of polar bears as a threatened species. The bears were designated as threatened because their icy habitat is melting away.
Maury Feldman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia the Interior Department had failed to show how the polar bears would likely be nearing extinction by the middle of this century, calling the Department's decision "arbitrary and capricious." He claimed the decision was based on flawed models without any real connection between population projection and habitat loss.
Lawyer for the department's Fish and Wildlife Service Katherine Hazard, asserted the designation relied on decades of research and long-term trends underpinning it.
"The agency needs to make a determination based on the best available science, which the agency did here," she said.
A threatened designation means the species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future in all or a majority part of its range.
Feldman asserts the government "applied a standard so imprecise that the Service could conceivably use it to list any healthy species whose habitat is projected to be affected by climate change, without making a future ℠on-the-brink´ determination."
The listing drew more attention to the bears' situation and triggered funding for programs to increase patrols that will limit contact with humans and a recovery plan for the bears, according to Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) reported this month that Arctic sea ice shrank to a record low of 1.32 million square miles by mid-September.
"Declines in sea ice extent have major negative impacts on polar bears," Hazard said in court papers. "Sea ice declines, which lengthen the period in which bears are unable to productively hunt seals, cause nutritional stress and weight loss and, ultimately, affect mortality and reproduction."
The State of Alaska and large oil companies have argued the Endangered Species Act protection for polar bears diminishes opportunities for further Alaskan energy development. In its appeals court filing, the State argues bears have survived warming trends before and most populations have grown or maintained stability despite the ice shrinkage.
The appeals court is not expected to make a decision for months.