(Updates with environmental group in 11th paragraph.)
June 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act was reasonable, a federal judge ruled, rejecting challenges that it limits resource development in Alaska.
The agency’s decision “represents a reasoned exercise” of its discretion based on the facts and the available science in 2008 when it made the determination, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington wrote today in a 116-page ruling granting the government’s request to uphold the designation.
Opponents “failed to demonstrate that the agency’s listing determination rises to the level of irrationality,” Sullivan wrote. “Plaintiffs’ challenges amount to nothing more than competing views about policy and science.”
The Bush administration’s 2008 decision to list the polar bear as threatened was challenged in several lawsuits including one by the state of Alaska over claims the designation would limit resource development and the economy. The administration cited the effect of global warming on the projected decline in sea ice that polar bears depend on for survival.
Polar bears, the world’s largest land predators, live on ice flows in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. The loss of ice is forcing the animals inland, away from their hunting areas. In October 2009, U.S. officials proposed setting aside a portion of land and sea ice larger than the state of California as critical habitat for the bears.
At the time of the listing, there were estimated to be about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears worldwide, Sullivan said today’s ruling.
Sullivan cited the Wildlife Service’s administrative proceedings, leading to a decision that included more than 16,000 pages of documents and about 670,000 comments from state and federal agencies, foreign governments, conservation groups and tribal organizations.
“The court is bound to uphold the agency’s determination that the polar bear is a threatened species as long as it is reasonable, regardless of whether there may be other reasonable, or even more reasonable views,” Sullivan said.
The ruling will become final if no objections are filed by July 7, the judge said.
Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, didn’t immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation came after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a complaint in 2005.
Kassie Siegel, director of the center’s Climate Law Institute, called today’s ruling “an important affirmation that the science demonstrating that global warming is pushing the polar bear toward extinction simply cannot be denied.”
“While we are disappointed that the polar bear will not receive the more protective endangered status it deserves, maintaining Endangered Species Act listing for the polar bear is a critical part of giving this species back its future,” Siegel said in an e-mailed statement.
The case is In Re Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing and Rule Litigation, 08-00764, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington).
--Editors: Michael Hytha, Mary Romano
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