Environmentalists see court ruling against polar habitat as ‘temporary setback’

A federal judge has thrown out a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to designate an area of Alaska larger than the state of California as a critical habitat for polar bears.

The judge ruled that the current plan went too far, and that the government needs to correct “substantive and procedural deficiencies.”

However, the ruling is only a ‘temporary setback,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, because the government can easily fix the remedies the federal judge identified and re-issue the rule.

“The decision in the polar bear critical habitat case is a temporary setback for conservation,” Siegel told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “However, we anticipate that critical habitat for the polar bear will be reinstated shortly, because the government can easily remedy the problems Judge Beistline identified in his decision and re-issue the rule.”

“The only shortcoming the Court found that applies to the rule overall is that the Fish and Wildlife Service needed to send a response to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (not the Governor of Alaska),” she said. “While we disagree that this is an adequate reason to set aside the critical habitat designation, it is easily fixed.”

Greenpeace also expressed disappointment in the ruling, but urged that more environmentally friendly policies could be adopted to curb global warming.

“We are disappointed with the decision and feel protections needs to be given to polar bear habitats in Alaska that also protect subsistence,” John Hocevar, Greenpeace Oceans Campaign Director, said in an email to The DCNF. “In order to adequately protect all Arctic wildlife, Greenpeace believes we must slow climate change by adopting clean energy supply systems globally and by reducing carbon emissions.”

The lawsuit was brought against the federal government by a coalition of Alaska Native groups, oil and gas groups and the state of Alaska, reports the Associated Press. The coalition argued that the Fish and Wildlife designation was as an overreach, while the federal government said the designation provided conservation benefits for polar bears.

The U.S. District Court of Alaska ruled that the federal agency failed to show that the designated 187,000-square mile area near the Beaufort and Chukchi seas contained necessary physical and biological features for polar bear conservation. The court also found that the federal agency did not follow procedures required under the Endangered Species Act and provide adequate justification to the state of Alaska for not incorporating their comments in the final rule.

“The decision could also be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,” Siegel said.

The decision received praise from Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, who argued that allowing the proposed habitat area would hurt economic development in the state.