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Alaskans Win with Habitat Decision


win for Alaska: court Rules polar bear critical habitat DESIGNATION Overreached mandate

Anchorage, AK — Alaskan industry, Alaska Native groups, and state and local governments scored a significant win when U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) proposed critical habitat designation for the polar bear did not meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). “The current designation went too far and was too extensive,” the judge wrote in his opinion. 

In a consolidated lawsuit led by Stoel Rives attorneys Jeffrey Leppo and Ryan Steen, the Alaska oil and gas industry, Alaska Native groups, the North Slope Borough, and the State of Alaska argued that large portions of the USFWS’s critical habitat designation -- encompassing more than 187,000 miles of North Slope Alaska, an area larger than California -- were not supported by evidence showing the presence of physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the polar bear. Judge Beistline agreed.

“In its current form, the critical habitat designation presents a disconnect between the twin goals of protecting a cherished resource and allowing for growth and much-need economic development,” Beistline wrote.  The Judge also agreed that USFWS failed to follow “applicable ESA procedure by not providing the State [of Alaska] with adequate justification for the State’s comments not incorporated into the Final Rule [designating critical habitat].”  Beistline vacated and remanded the final rule, sending it back to the USFWS for substantive and procedural correction.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and Attorney General Michael Geraghty applauded the decision in a press release.  “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s attempt to classify massive sections of resource-rich North Slope lands as critical habitat is the latest in a long string of examples of the federal government encroaching on our state’s rights,” Parnell said.  “I am pleased the State of Alaska was able to fight off this concerted effort to kill jobs and economic development in Alaska.” 

“The court made the right decision in rejecting this unwarranted listing of critical habitat by the Service,” Geraghty added.  “Protecting polar bears is a priority for us all, but such measures must carefully comply with the requirements of the statute.”

Leppo and Steen represented the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) in the case.  In addition, Stoel Rives successfully represented AOGA in the multi-district In re Polar Bear ESA Listing and § 4(d) Rule Litigation and currently represents AOGA, API and other industry groups in a broad range of regulatory issues related to climate change, federal endangered species, marine mammal regulation, offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing, exploration and development, and coastal zone management.

The case is Alaska Oil and Gas Association and American Petroleum Institute v. Salazar, Case No. 3:11-cv-0025-RRB.  A link to Judge Beistline’s order, issued January 11, 2013, is available at www.stoel.com/files/AKOil&Gasv.Salazar.pdf

About Stoel Rives LLP:  Stoel Rives is a business law firm providing corporate and litigation services to a wide range of clients throughout the United States.  The firm has nearly 400 attorneys operating out of 11 offices in seven states.  Stoel Rives is a leader in corporate, energy, environmental, intellectual property, labor and employment, land use and construction, litigation, natural resources, project development and real estate law.  The firm has offices in Alaska, California, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah and Washington.  For more information, visit www.stoel.com.

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