The state of Alaska and a number of Alaska Native corporations filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The February decision upheld the polar bear habitat designation for 187,000 square miles of Alaska land.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced its plan in 2010 to set aside the area — which stretches across the Arctic Slope, Northwest Arctic, Bering Straits and Calista regions — as critical habitat for polar bears. The section of land under the designation is larger than the state of California, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) pointed out.
The designation makes it more difficult for projects to get federal permits, which petitioners said could hurt Alaska development and business, according to ASRC, one of the petition’s signers.
Along with ASRC and Alaska, supporters of the petition include the North Slope Borough, the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, Kuukpik Corporation, Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation, Olgoonik Corporation, Inc., Tikigaq Corporation, the Bering Straits Native Corporation, NANA Regional Corporation and Calista Corporation.
“We will not stand by and allow for our input and legitimate concerns to be ignored,” Rex Rock Sr., ASRC president and CEO, said in a statement. “For more than five years we have tirelessly fought this critical habitat designation, which threatens the economic viability of our communities and quality of life for our people. We are hopeful the Supreme Court will consider our argument and recognize the detrimental effects of the appellate court’s extremely permissive decision.”
Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation director Bruce Dale voiced his agreement with Rock’s assessment, saying in a statement that while the designation makes it appear that something is being done for polar bears in the Arctic, “designations forsake meaningful, focused protections of truly important areas.”
“The designation of vast areas creates unneeded regulatory burdens without conservation benefit in areas rarely used by polar bears,” Dale said.
Polar bears are considered threatened by receding sea ice, leaving them without access to both land and water for their hunting needs.
“The designation does nothing to change the disappearing sea ice, which is the primary threat to the polar bear population, yet it puts the growth of our communities at risk,” said North Slope Borough Mayor, Harry K. Brower Jr., who stated his greatest concern was the burden the designation would put on Arctic communities seeking to develop the area.
The USFWS’ designation came before the agency’s decision not to join an international trade ban on polar bear products.
“We are putting our resources into working in collaboration with other polar bear range states to address climate change and mitigate its impacts on the polar bear as the overwhelming threat to the long-term future of the species,” the agency said in its statement on that decision in May.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.