October 22, 2009 --- Vol. 15, No. 82October 2009

U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposes polar bear critical habitat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its proposed designation of critical habitat for the polar bear today, following the May 2008 listing of the bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed habitat region encompasses a total area of 200,541 square miles of U.S. territory covering those areas of the Arctic Alaska offshore continental shelf where water depths are 300 meters (980 feet) or less in depth; barrier islands and spits along Alaska’s northern coast; and polar-bear, on-land denning habitat along the Beaufort Sea coast.

The onshore denning habitat consists of lands within about 20 miles of the northern coast of Alaska between the Canadian border and the Kavik River, and within about eight miles of the coast between the Kavik River and the city of Barrow.

The announcement of the proposed critical habitat designation triggers a 60-day public comment period.

“This administration is fully committed to the protection and recovery of the polar bear,” said Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Tom Strickland. “Proposing critical habitat for this iconic species is one step in the right direction to help this species stave off extinction, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change. As we move forward with a comprehensive energy and climate strategy, we will continue to work to protect the polar bear and its fragile environment.”

Fish and Wildlife has also proposed the prohibition of international trade in polar bears and their parts, Strickland said.

See story in Oct. 25 issue, available online at noon, Friday Oct. 23, at

Shell’s Chukchi plan under review

The Minerals Management Service said in an Oct. 20 letter to Shell Offshore Inc. that it has reviewed the company’s 2010 exploration drilling program for the Chukchi and will make a decision within 30 calendar days on whether to approve, disapprove or require modification of the plan.

Shell said in the plan that it has identified seven lease blocks within three prospects — Burger, Crackerjack and Southwest Shoebill — for its 2010 Chukchi Sea exploration plan. The company said it has identified five possible drill sites, three in Burger and one each in Crackerjack and Southwest Shoebill.

If conditions are favorable, Shell said, it plans to drill exploration wells at three of the five sites, and said that to allow for operational flexibility, all five sites will be permitted for drilling in 2010.

See story in Nov. 1 issue, available online at noon, Friday Oct. 30, at

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