Center for Biological Diversity Planning to Sue Over Critical Habitat Designation

Andy Fischer, APRN – Anchorage

The Center for Biological Diversity is planning to sue the Interior Department over land designated as critical habitat for polar bears, saying the designation doesn’t do enough to protect bears from the effects of oil and gas production.

The 187,000 square miles along the Alaska’s northern coast and in the Arctic Ocean was designated as Critical Habitat in November. The Interior Department is still authorizing oil leasing in the area, including a potential exploratory well that could be drilled this summer in the Chukchi Sea.

Rebecca Noblin, director of the Center for Biological Diversity office in Anchorage, says the suit is a way to ensure the Interior Department is sufficiently protecting the Polar Bear under the Endangered Species Act.

Oil production in critical habitat areas isn’t illegal, but the Interior Department is responsible for ensuring activities don’t take place that would harm the bears or their habitat.

Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, says allowing oil exploration in a critical habitat area isn’t unusual, and the Interior Department has successfully allowed it before in the Arctic.

The polar bear was listed as threatened in 2008 under the Endangered Species Act, due in large part to the projected loss of Arctic sea ice.

Download Audio (MP3)