Court upholds statutory protection for polar bears

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Feb. 1 upheld the listing of polar bears as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of the animal as threatened gives polar bears the lower of two levels of protection. This designation was challenged by both environmental groups, which argued that the polar bears should be considered endangered and be given the highest level of protections, and industry and sporting groups, which argued that they should not be protected under the act at all. The court determined that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) used “reasoned decisionmaking” in deciding to list polar bears as threatened, and therefore did not disturb its designation. The agency went through a three-year rulemaking process and determined that, due to the effects of global warming, polar bears are likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future, warranting their designation as threatened.

Protection of polar bears has been a controversial issue with increasing awareness about global warming and other threats to polar bears’ environment. In August a federal appeals court upheld a regulation by the FWS that provides legal protection to oil companies that incidentally cause harm to small numbers of walruses or polar bears. In 2011 a federal appeals court ruled that the FWS is not obligated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect polar bears and their environment. That decision was made after the Obama administration in 2009 decided to keep a rule made during the George W. Bush presidency that prevents use of the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions to protect polar bears.

From Jurist, March 3. Used with permission.