State, Native Corps ask U.S. Supreme Court to enter fray over polar bear habitat

A polar bear mother watches carefully with her cubs along her side as their picture is taken, March 6, 2007. (Photo credit: USFWS)
A polar bear mother watches carefully with her cubs along her side as their picture is taken, March 6, 2007. (Photo credit: USFWS)

The State of Alaska and a dozen Native organizations have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to overturn a ruling that designated vast swaths of coastal Alaska as critical habitat for polar bears.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set aside more than 187,000 square miles of land and water — an area larger than California — as critical polar bear habitat. The bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, largely because of the impacts of climate change. The critical habitat designation means any industry or development in the area faces more scrutiny from regulators.

The State of Alaska sued, arguing the inclusion of so much land was not justified by science or the law, and it would impose too heavy a burden on development in the region.

A lower court initially agreed with the state, throwing out the designation in 2013. But this February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the critical habitat ruling.

The state is joined in the petition by the North Slope Borough and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, along with regional and village corporations representing communities from Kaktovik to Bethel.