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State of Alaska, others seek to bump polar bears from 'threatened' status

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published October 19, 2012

Lawyers gathered in a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals courtroom in Washington D.C. on Friday to argue whether or not polar bears should continue being considered a threatened species. Attorneys for the state of Alaska and other parties argued that the federal government still has not sufficiently supported the decision that the iconic Arctic bear's be listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Reuters reports that the state's appeal came after a federal court ruling last year upheld the Interior Department's 2008 decision to grant the bears a threatened status. The Interior Department originally argued that the bears were threatened due to the increased risk of disappearing habitat in the Arctic. Murray Feldman, who represents Alaska and other appellants, argued that is an inadequate reason to have granted the animals a threatened status.

Feldman told the court that the U.S. government had not adequately demonstrated that polar bears were facing extinction, adding that the department's decision to grant the status was based, in his opinion, on flawed population models and was "arbitrary and capricious."

The state has in the past argued that the bears have survived previous warming periods and most populations have grown or remained stable despite shrinkage of ice.

Lawyer Katherine Hazard, representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), disagreed. Hazard said that the decision was based on decades of research and long-term trends. Bruce Woods, also of USFWS, said the at-risk status of the bears has helped draw attention to the animal's struggles and raise money for their conservation.

The state of Alaska and other appelants, including the California Cattlemen's Association and the Safari Club, are seeking to overturn the bear's status for various reasons. Though Reuters also notes that oil and gas companies have been interested in stripping the bear of its designation in order to take advantage of some of the bear's habitat for oil exploration or production opportunities.

The appeals court is not expected to make a decision regarding the bears for some time. Stay tuned. And meanwhile, read more here.

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