The federal government is due to designate areas of critical habitat for polar bears off Alaska's north coast before a deadline of 30 June 2010 in partial settlement of a lawsuit brought against the United States government by three conservation groups. The areas include oil and gas exploration sites. Conflicting cases and rulings remove any certainty from protection measures. The oil-dependent state of Alaska has sued to strip the polar bear of protected status.
The plaintiff conservation groups - Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Greenpeace - point out that the critical habitat proposal comes the same week that another Interior Department agency, the Minerals Management Service, approved oil company plans for exploratory drilling in the polar bear's habitat in the Beaufort Sea. As reported by the Environment News Service, the agreement also requires the Department of the Interior to finalize guidelines for the nonlethal deterrence of polar bears deemed to pose a threat to public safety. The retreat of sea ice from shore leaves more of the bears stranded on land, where they are sometimes shot as a nuisance, according to conservation groups. A federal judge will decide later in 2010 if the protection of polar bears can justify a cap on greenhouse gases, which could open the door to lawsuits against the country's top polluters. The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure that the activities they authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a protected species or to destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or private lands unless federal funds, permits, or activities are involved. (Written Mar 2010)
Date written/update: 2010-06-30