The State of Alaska has objected to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s estimate of $669,000 as the total cost over a 29-year period of the critical habitat designation for the polar bear. The critical habitat designation followed the 2008 listing of the animals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — the ESA requires an assessment of the economic ramifications of the critical habitat designation.
Fish and Wildlife based its cost estimate on the assumption that the designation would have little impact beyond protections already in place for the bears under the terms of the Marine Mammals Protection Act: The main economic impact of the critical habitat designation would be the cost of additional government consultations, Fish and Wildlife said.
An independent review commissioned by the State of Alaska and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. has concluded that “potential impacts may be in the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in just the next 15 years,” Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a July 9 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The review report says that costs would result from delays in the initiation or expansion of oil and gas exploration projects; reductions in oil production; and restrictions on construction projects, Parnell said in a July 9 press release announcing the state’s objections to the Fish and Wildlife cost estimate.
The state is also questioning whether the critical habitat designation will in fact benefit polar bears, given that Fish and Wildlife has said that the designation will not result in additional conservation measures, Parnell said.
In late 2009 the state filed suit in federal court to have the polar bear listing rejected. That case has not yet been resolved.