The state of Alaska along with several business groups have filed an appeal of a federal court ruling that maintained protection for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.
In June, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in finding that polar bears were appropriately listed as threatened under federal law. The state, pro-development groups and even hunting organizations had been seeking to have the bears taken off the list while conservation groups wanted even more protections, asking that the bears be declared endangered.
The agency also has designated more than 187,000 square miles of Arctic coastal habitat as critical for the bears' survival. That makes it more difficult for oil companies and others wanting to do development projects in the Arctic to get necessary permits.
The state is concerned the listing of the polar bear will mean other species could be given special protection, too, based on arguments that climate change is having an effect. In a press release, state officials pointed to the proposed listing of the ringed seal as an example.
Gov. Sean Parnell said polar bears don't need special protection because the species is healthy.
"The State of Alaska and the federal government agree on a key fact in this case - the population of polar bears has grown during a period of climate change from a low of about 8,000 – 10,000 in the late 1960s to approximately 20,000 - 25,000 today," Parnell said in a prepared statement. "The Endangered Species Act was not intended for species that are healthy with populations that have more than doubled in the last 40 years."
Environmental groups think otherwise, of course, and are continuing their push to have the bear listed as endangered.
In fact, even as the state filed its appeal in Washington, D.C., conservationists were meeting in Anchorage this week for a two-day session aimed at devising a polar bear "recovery" strategy.
Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com