U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Alaska Polar Bears Win in 9th Circuit Ruling

The Ninth Circuit just overturned a lower district court decision that favored Big Oil, thereby strengthening protections of critical Alaskan polar bear habitat.

The decision restores approximately 187,000 square miles of land-sea to protection under the Endangered Species Act and re-designates the area as "critical habitat" for polar bears.

187,000 Sq. Miles of Land and Sea

The controversy revolves around a large swatch of territory that includes both land and sea section off Alaska's coast. Several years ago, disagreement erupted over whether or not the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service had enacted protections intended to cover the Alaskan polar bear in a way that was too arbitrary to be evenly and properly enforced.

Obviously, energy interests in the area were determined to paint the FWS protections in a negative light. At issue was whether or not the FWS had properly used factors projected into future predictions of climate change predictions and their effects on polar bear breeding.

Previously, the FWS twisted the knife into the hearts of energy interests by designating the 187,000 square-miles of territory as partial-crucial island an waters as "no-disturbance" zones for denning polar bears. The district court found in favor against the FWS designation and explained that it was arbitrary and capricious and was actually in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

It appears that reasonable minds will simply have to disagree. The office of Alaska's AG expressed disappointed in the Ninth Circuit's decision. According to the Alaska AG, "[t]here's no real connection," between the 187,000 square-miles and "the survival or recovery of polar bears."

Polar Bear Populations

Polar bear populations have been declining, much like oil industry which vies for this territory. Numbers hovered around 1,000 when the FWS imposed its rule designating that disputed area polar bear land. The Ninth Circuit's decision is yet a further blow to energy interests in the area which saw a zenith during the eighties and has been declining ever since.