A lawyer representing the state of Alaska today asked a federal appeals court in Washington to strike the controversial federal listing of polar bears as a threatened species.
The attorney, Murray Feldman of the Boise, Idaho office of Holland & Hart, argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to adequately explain why it believes polar bears will likely become endangered. Feldman contends the government drew conclusions without any real connection between population projection and habitat loss.
The government listed the polar bear as a threatened species in 2008 under the Endangered Species Act. Federal officials said at the time that the designation was based on the "best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will continue to threaten polar bear habitat."
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit didn't immediately rule this morning. The court is looking at whether to uphold U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan's ruling in June 2011 finding the "threatened" designation for polar bears was adequately justified.
Feldman said in court papers in the case that the government "applied a standard so imprecise that the Service could conceivably use it to list any healthy species whose habitat is projected to be affected by climate change, without making a future ‘on-the-brink’ determination."
The U.S. Justice Department's Katherine Hazard of the environment and natural resources division said in court today that the challengers of the designation haven't refuted data showing a decline in sea ice. Polar bears, Hazard said, rely on sea ice for their survival.
"Declines in sea ice extent have major negative impacts on polar bears," Hazard said in court papers. "Sea ice declines, which lengthen the period in which bears are unable to productively hunt seals, cause nutritional stress and weight loss and, ultimately, affect mortality and reproduction."
Several advocacy groups, including Greenpeace Inc., the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Human Society of the United States intervened in defense of the “threatened” listing.
Numerous groups backed Alaska in the dispute, including Safari Club International, the California Cattlemen’s Association and the Conservation Force.