Polar Bears Will Remain Protected Under Endangered Species Act
March 3, 2013

Appeals Court Upholds Polar Bear’s Endangered Species Act Protections

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US government and the polar bear won an important court ruling on Friday, as an appeals court deemed that the Bush administration had acted reasonably when they decided to list the Arctic mammal as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act due to the effects of climate change.

According to Brent Kendall of the Wall Street Journal, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a 36 page ruling which upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service´s (FWS) 2008 decision.

The agency opted to grant the polar bear protection on the basis that it could become endangered in the foreseeable future due to the impact of global warming on its sea-ice habitat. Opponents had argued that the FWS´s decision formed them to impose “far-ranging and possibly costly protections for a species that remains fairly abundant in many regions of the Arctic,” Los Angeles Times writer Kim Murphy said.

“There are still about 25,000 polar bears around the world, many of them in relatively healthy populations, but scientists fear that climate change is rapidly affecting their ability to sustain those numbers after the next half-century,” Murphy explained.

The court determined that arguments opposing the protections amounted to “nothing more than competing views on policy and science” and ruled to uphold the original FWS decision. They also cited a Supreme Court admonition which advises that a court is not to “substitute its judgment for that of the agency,” while pointing out that none of those challenging the ruling disputed the agency´s findings on climate science or the biology of the bear.

Sea ice is essential to polar bears because they are used not only for dens, but also as a platform for hunting, Murphy said. With warmer temperatures causing some of that ice to melt in shallow waters located near land, experts believe that polar bear populations could suffer. That led to the FWS decision to grant Endangered Species Act to the creatures, which tend to be between eight and 11 feet tall and weigh as much as 1,400 pounds.

“The issue has been highly controversial, particularly in Alaska, where polar bears live side by side with the state´s powerful oil and gas industry,” the Los Angeles Times said. “The animal's protection under the Endangered Species Act means much more formidable hurdles for obtaining oil drilling permits, especially as offshore operations expand into the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.”