polar bears, Endangered Species Act, Alaska
Steve Amstrup/AP

Alaska’s Lawsuit Threatens Polar Bears’ New Protected Status

August 07, 2008 04:08 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The state of Alaska is protesting the U.S. government’s listing of the animal as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, claiming the classification will hurt local business.

Alaska Sues Over Polar Bears

The lawsuit was filed August 4 in federal court, seeking to reverse a May 14 decision to list the bears as a threatened species, reported Reuters.
In May, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced the federal protection of polar bears according to the recommendation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying that the loss of sea ice was threatening their habitat.
Alaska argues that the decision will harm oil and gas exploration, fisheries and tourism, and that it ignores the bears’ recent population growth. “We believe that the … decision to list the polar bear was not based on the best scientific and commercial data available,” Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said in a statement.
Palin and others critics of the polar bears’ protection point out that recent conservation measures have succeeded to the extent that the bears’ population has more than doubled in the last 40 years to 20,000–25,000 bears.

Background: Polar bear population, habitat

Indeed, the Alaskan polar bear population is stable at present, but there is evidence that the bears’ hunting grounds are shrinking. In February, findingDulcinea reported on the push by activists to get the bears listed as “threatened” because of their disappearing habitat. The findingDulcinea story cited a Wall Street Journal article that explained that the conflict is “really about the politics of global warming,” and has little to do with polar bears themselves. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could be gone by 2050 if sea ice continues to melt at a rapid pace. But the politicizing of the issue, argued the Journal, is especially misconceived because reducing emissions won’t stop the poles from thawing.

Reactions: Environmentalists not happy

Environmental groups say they plan to counter the lawsuit. The Sierra Club called the legal action a “move of sweeping arrogance,” while Melanie Duchin of Greenpeace USA told Reuters that Alaska is “merely doing the bidding of oil companies that want to drill for oil in sensitive polar bear habitat, without any concern for how that oil will impact the climate when it’s burned.”

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