The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published a final rule designating more than 187,000 square miles of the Alaska Arctic offshore, Arctic barrier islands and Alaska’s northern coast as critical habitat for the polar bear.
“This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations,” Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said today in announcing the final rule. “Nevertheless, the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of its sea ice habitat caused by human-induced climate change. We will continue to work toward comprehensive strategies for the long-term survival of this iconic species.”
Following the May 2008 listing of the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife in October 2009 proposed designation of 200,541 square miles of territory as critical habitat, with the critical habitat designation being a legal requirement under the ESA. The agency has played down the likely economic impact of the designation, saying that the designation would have little effect beyond wildlife protections already in place under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
But the State of Alaska has challenged this position, saying an independent review commissioned by the state and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. estimated that disruption to the oil and gas industry resulting from the designation could cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in the next 15 years.
In its final rule Fish and Wildlife has reduced the critical habitat area slightly from the 200,541 square miles originally designated, having more accurately accounted for the U.S. boundary of sea-ice habitat and having removed some U.S. Air Force radar sites, all existing manmade structures and the communities of Barrow and Kaktovik from the designated area.
See story in Dec. 5 issue, available online for subscribers at noon, Friday, Dec. 3, at www.PetroleumNews.com