Polar bears, © Jeannette Howard

Much-needed Victory for Polar Bears

Court upholds designation of polar bear critical habitat

Polar bears face enormous threats from climate change and melting sea ice, but their Arctic habitat will receive some needed protection, thanks to a new decision last week from a federal appellate court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of more than 120 million acres as critical habitat for the imperiled polar bear.

Polar bears spend much of their time on Arctic sea ice, often hundreds of miles from land. They rely on this habitat to travel, hunt and raise their young. Critical habitat is so important to the survival and recovery of polar bears, which are struggling to survive as their habitat melts from beneath their feet. Studies have shown that species with designated critical habitat do better than those without. So when the Service designated critical habitat for the polar bear in 2010, Defenders offered our strong support.

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Polar bear and young, © Susanne Miller/ USFWS

But the polar bear’s habitat protection was short lived. Concerned that the designation could impact oil and gas drilling, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the state of Alaska challenged the designation of lands in the state. At their request, a District Court judge in Alaska struck down the habitat rule in 2013.

Defenders and our partners went back to court to help get the judge’s decision overturned. And we won! With this victory, some 187,000 square miles of Arctic Alaska’s coastal areas and barrier islands will again receive some protection.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize or approve will not adversely modify designated critical habitat. So the court’s decision to reinstate this crucial protection will help ensure that federal actions will not add to the polar bear’s plight.

Critical habitat does not, however, always stop activities that could be harmful to polar bears. And, unfortunately, the Obama administration continues to allow some oil and gas leasing in polar bear habitat. So while our latest court victory is most welcome, polar bears need more. The long-term survival of this iconic species will depend on strong policies to prevent oil and gas development in sensitive areas, and to combat the effects of climate change.

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12 Responses to “Much-needed Victory for Polar Bears”

  1. Eve McGregor

    Polar bears are essential life on this planet, and it is unthinkable that they could be so endangered. We must as humans ensure their survival, otherwise we become less than human and not worthy of survival ourselves.

    • zara kolb

      I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I completely agree!!!

  2. Muriel Servaege

    I totally agree with Eve McGregor.
    In Russia, polar bears are captured and used by circuses. Horrible.

  3. Rhonda Reda

    What has become of us as a people that we would turn a blind eye to what is going on with the wildlife in our world. All of this is so important to the way it was meant to be. All of the parts have a role in the way we and others survive. We being so civilized have wiped out so many species of animals and plants. If only we would learn from animals, to respect the world and all the life in it. Humans are so selfish and thoughtless. May God have mercy on us and the world we have destroyed. This most beautiful gift that was given to us by a loving Creator.

  4. John Burridge

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is probably the best court in the United States for deciding environmental matters in favor of the environment.

  5. Shirley Graves

    Our natural world is precious if we do not protect it, the forests,wetlands,grasslands our world will be unfit for all the wildlife that depend on habitat for their very life

  6. Shirley Graves

    Please speak up for the wolves, grizzly bears, polar bears and all other wildlife that have no voice of their own . We are their voice

  7. Carleen Wuitschick

    What I do not understand people say they are helping polar bears. When was the last time they drop food to feed the bears. Or, build floating rafts so they have a place to rest

  8. Philip Ratcliff

    The Obama regime talks about climate change, but has offshore oil drilling plans for the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Seas off Alaska. Shell’s plans for drilling off Alaska went nowhere because its investment failed. Another company will take its place, thanks to Obama’s aggressive offshore drilling plans. And environmentalists once again will imagine a massive oil spill’s effects on polar bears and other denizens of the North.

  9. Belinda DePersio

    I didn’t know the Russians captured polar bears and use them in circuses but I do know if we don’t stop the clearing forests for lumber, oil wells in Alaska and shooting wolves at will, we’re not going to have anything to appreciate at all. And in case you didn’t know, the clearing of lumber in Australia is doing away with the koala bear’s trees they live in and a lot of the koalas go down when they clear the trees and the majority of koalas end of with broken backs, limbs missing or death with their joeys still alive and clinging to their backs. We must make our governments listen.

  10. gregory cleary

    So many people don’t care , but I’m grateful for defenders, big business don’t care all they want is money. As I have said before people are cruel. I would like defenders to help pass a law that would outlaw trapping in the U.S. Maybe if people could feel the pain animals feel , maybe it would change. What a sad, and cruel world this is.

    Thank you Defenders

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