Polar Bear Critical Habitat to Be Designated

October 6, 2008
2:37 PM

Polar Bear Critical Habitat to Be Designated

CONTACT: Environmental Groups
Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, cell: (951) 961-7972,
Josh Mogerman, Natural Resources Defense Council, cell: (773) 853-5384;
office: (312) 780-7424, jmogerman@nrdc.org
Mike Crocker, Greenpeace, office: (202) 319-2471; cell: (202) 215-8989,
Polar Bear Critical Habitat to Be Designated
Lawsuit Settlement Will Increase Protections for Species Imperiled by
Global Warming

OAKLAND, Calif. – October 6 – The Center for Biological Diversity, the
Natural Resources Defense Council, and Greenpeace have reached a partial
settlement with the federal government of the conservation groups’ lawsuit
that seeks to strengthen protections for the polar bear under the U.S.
Endangered Species Act and other laws. The agreement, filed today in
federal court, sets deadlines for the Secretary of Interior to designate
“critical habitat” for the polar bear, as well as to issue guidelines on
non-lethal strategies to deal with bears that pose a threat to public
safety under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“If polar bears are to survive in a rapidly melting Arctic, we must
protect their critical habitat, as well as protect individual bears
stranded on land. This agreement sets us on the path to doing both,” said
Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological
Diversity and lead author of the 2005 petition seeking the Endangered
Species Act listing.

Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat is supposed to be
designated at the same time a species is listed as threatened or
endangered. Once designated, federal agencies are prohibited from taking
any actions that may “adversely modify” critical habitat in a way that
could interfere with the species’ recovery. Species for which critical
habitat has been designated have been found to be more than twice as
likely to recover, and less than half as likely to decline, than those
without. Today’s agreement sets a deadline of June 30, 2010 for a final
rule designating critical habitat for the polar bear. A proposed critical
habitat rule will be issued next year, and will be subject to public
comment and public hearings.

“The designation of critical habitat is one of the most powerful and
important protections that the Endangered Species Act offers to animals
and plants on the brink of extinction,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of
Natural Resource Defense Council’s Endangered Species Project.
“Designation of critical habitat for the polar bear is an essential step
towards saving this increasingly imperiled species.”

Today’s settlement also resolves the conservation groups’ claim that the
Secretary of Interior violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing
to issue guidelines for the non-lethal deterrence of polar bears that pose
a threat to public safety. The agreement requires the Secretary to
finalize such guidelines by March 31, 2010. As with the critical habitat
rule, the guidelines will be preceded by a proposed rule next year, along
with public comment and public hearings.

“As the ice retreats further from shore and more polar bears are stranded
on land, the number of human/bear interactions is increasing. We need
guidelines that protect both people and bears,” said Melanie Duchin,
Greenpeace global warming campaigner in Alaska.

The settlement does not address the conservation groups’ claims that the
Secretary of Interior violated the Endangered Species Act by listing the
polar bear as “threatened” rather than “endangered” and by issuing a
special rule exempting the bear from many of the protections otherwise
provided by the Act. That case is continuing and will be heard early next
year in federal district court in Oakland, Calif. In addition to the
conservation groups’ lawsuit seeking additional protection for the polar
bear, five separate lawsuits have been filed in Washington, D.C., by the
State of Alaska and various industry groups seeking to overturn
protections for the species.


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