Effort to List Polar Bears as Endangered Hits U.S. District Court

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

A federal judge is ordering the Obama administration to review whether polar bears are endangered under federal law.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan wants the Interior Department to clarify its determination that polar bears were merely threatened rather than in imminent danger of extinction.

Sullivan’s request keeps in place a 2008 decision declaring polar bears in need of increased protection. The Bush administration said in May 2008 that the polar bears are on the way to extinction because of the rapid disappearance of the Arctic sea ice upon which they depend. But it stopped short of declaring the bears endangered.

Sullivan heard arguments this morning about whether to list the polar bear as an endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups argue that the polar bear should be considered “endangered” rather than its current lower grade of “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.  They filed a lawsuit, but, on the other end of the spectrum, the state of Alaska says the bear is not in danger, and so should not be protected at all under the ESA. The Endangered Species Act requires special protections for species in peril and the state says that could hamper development. The environmentalists want the feds to take action by tightening rules on greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

The judge hearing the case, Emmet Sullivan, presided over the Ted Stevens trial two years ago.

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