Polar bear habitat protected A polar bear dries off after taking a swim in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska. (Brian Battaile/U.S. Geological Survey via AP, File/AP Photo/Dan Joling, File)
Polar bear habitat protected
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed the law when it designated more than 187,000 square miles - an area larger than California - as critical habitat for threatened polar bears in Alaska marine waters and its northern coast, an appeals court has ruled.
 
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2013 lower court decision that the designation was too extensive and not specific.
 
A spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to designate polar bears as a threatened species, called it a victory for the marine mammal.
 
"The polar bear gets the full protection of critical habitat to which it's entitled, it deserves and it truly needs," Brendan Cummings said.
 
The federal government in 2008 declared polar bears threatened under the Endangered Species Act, citing melting sea ice. Polar bears need ice for hunting, breeding and migrating.
 
The move made the polar bear the first species to be designated as threatened under the act because of global warming.
 
A designation of critical habitat is required as part of a recovery plan. The Fish and Wildlife Service set aside acreage along Alaska's northern coast but 95 percent is in the ocean waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
 
The Alaska Oil and Gas Association, the state of Alaska, a coalition of Alaska Native groups and other oil and gas interests sued, calling the designation an overreach.
 
Former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said the critical habitat designation included areas that account for almost half of Alaska's oil production, and petroleum exploration and production would be delayed or restricted.
 
U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service's designation of sea ice as critical habitat was valid. However, he ruled the agency had not shown that areas on land and barrier islands had features making them appropriate for polar bear dens and he rejected the entire plan.
 
Appeals court judges said the lower court decision appeared to consider denning habitat but not the need by bears to have undisturbed access to and from sea ice.
 
The appeals court judges agreed that the agency did not have to prove that existing polar bears actually used certain designated areas, only that those areas were critical to the conservation of the species. They said the agency drew rational conclusions from the best scientific evidence available.
 
Cummings said specificity in designating habitat is impossible given the dynamic nature of the Arctic, where polar bears move by walking or merely resting on shifting sea ice. Polar bears, he said, are not like salmon that return to the same streams every year to spawn.
 
"You can't say the bear will take this specific path to its denning area, and therefore, let's only protect that narrow corridor," he said. "You need to protect on the scale of the ecosystem, which is what Fish and Wildlife did."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Who is threatening the polar bears' habitat?
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COMMENTS (5)
  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    3/09/2016 - 11:54 a.m.

    Many oil and gas companies are ruining the habitat because they aren't respecting the space that the animals need. They just want to drill and drill so that they can make more money.

  • seana-lam
    3/11/2016 - 10:50 a.m.

    I'm glad that Alaska is protecting it's native species, honestly the rest of the United States could learn a lot from them, and put life over oil and money.

  • kendallk-pla
    3/14/2016 - 10:11 a.m.

    This article is about how a court of appeals has reversed a decision by a lower court, so now the law designates 187,000 square miles for polar bear habitats in Alaska waters and coasts. The polar bears, while not officially endangered, desperately need this space for hunting and breeding and migrating, will allow polar bears not to have restrictions on their paths so the species may continue to reproduce. This demonstrates civic engagement because the US Fish and Wildlife Services continued to fight for rights for a species that is nearly endangered, and thankfully a higher court decided to make a step in the right direction by making the ethical decision to help the polar bears.

  • drews-pla
    3/14/2016 - 10:30 p.m.

    A 9th district federal court recently reversed a 2013 ruling regarding protection of land by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The overturned ruling stated that the protection was too extensive and not specific. The purpose of the land is to protect polar bears, an animal which has been classified as endangered by the U.S. government since 2008. Alaskan oil companies began to challenge the ruling because they operated on part of the protected area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service demonstrated civic engagement by taking the ruling to a higher court. They could have cut their losses but instead they chose to challenge the ruling which paid off in the end.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    3/15/2016 - 05:56 p.m.

    Oil and gas companies are damaging the polar bears' habitat. They are harming them because they have no respect for the animals and only wish to seek money.

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