WASHINGTON (CN) - As the oil and gas industry fights to strip away safeguards for polar bears, which were allocated 187,000 square miles in critical habitat, a federal judge ruled affirmed the bear's "threatened species" listing against environmentalists' clamor for more protections.
The Center for Biological Diversity was one of several organizations to file suit after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear as "threatened," as opposed to "endangered," in 2008. Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. originally intervened as defendants alongside the federal agency.
In March 2011, Alaska Oil and Gas sued
to set aside the 187,157 square miles of critical habitat that the designation set aside, claiming in Alaska federal court that "there is no evidence of an overall decline in the global polar bear population or in its historical range."
On June 30, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan upheld the designation.
"After careful consideration of the numerous objections to the Listing Rule, the Court finds that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the agency's listing determination rises to the level of irrationality," Sullivan wrote. "In the Court's opinion, plaintiffs' challenges amount to nothing more than competing views about policy and science. Some plaintiffs in this case believe that the Service went too far in protecting the polar bear; others contend that the Service did not go far enough. According to some plaintiffs, mainstream climate science shows that the polar bear is already irretrievably headed toward extinction throughout its range. According to others, climate science is too uncertain to support any reliable predictions about the future of polar bears. However, this Court is not empowered to choose among these competing views. Although plaintiffs have proposed many alternative conclusions that the agency could have drawn with respect to the status of the polar bear, the Court cannot substitute either the plaintiffs' or its own judgment for that of the agency. Instead, this Court is bound to uphold the agency's determination that the polar bear is a threatened species as long as it is reasonable, regardless of whether there may be other reasonable, or even more reasonable, views. That is particularly true where, as here, the agency is operating at the frontiers of science."
The government relied on facts and "the best available science" in making the listing determination, according to Sullivan's 116-page ruling.
The Center for Biological Diversity claimed that the Service "wrongfully concluded that the polar bear did not qualify for endangered status at the time of the listing, given the evidence in the record indicating that substantial anticipated sea ice losses will continue through the end of the 21st century."
In its complaint, which is still pending, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association claims that the designated critical habitat for polar bears violates the Endangered Species Act. The group says that the agency's final rule failed to weigh the economic impact with the conservation benefits and failed to consider the best scientific data.