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State Sets Out Strategy Regarding Endangered Species Act

Department of Law files new briefs in lawsuit, warns of slippery slope

Anchorage, Alaska - As the State of Alaska filed two legal briefs urging the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to reject the listing of the polar bear as "threatened," Governor Sean Parnell and Attorney General Dan Sullivan warned of a crossroads facing the state as resource development is being challenged through misuse of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"Some are attempting to use the Endangered Species Act as a way to shut down resource development," Governor Parnell said. "I won't let that happen on my watch. I will support resource development and the jobs that are generated for our rural communities by taking strong action in the courts to advocate for Alaska."

The governor laid out a three-part strategy:
  • Support resource development through federal litigation to set aside the listing of the polar bear by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Ensure that the ESA is not used as a tool to lock up Alaska's land.
  • Continue to work cooperatively with the federal government and Alaska communities to provide economic opportunities while protecting wildlife.
Attorney General Sullivan said it's important to understand the dire consequences of the legal theory being advanced by groups that are misapplying the ESA and distorting its purpose.

"There are two competing visions of the future of Alaska," Sullivan said. "Ours is one in which responsible resource development proceeds apace and protections remain in place for wildlife, including polar bears, which we treasure. The other vision is one in which Alaska's resources are locked up, our economy languishes, we lose population and we lack the capacity to maintain schools, roads, bridges, harbors and airports, or to provide for public safety. It is imperative that this latter vision does not become a reality."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted the "threatened" listing for polar bears last year, prompting the lawsuit by the state.

State officials are questioning the modeling used by the Fish and Wildlife Service to project the loss of sea ice and predict impacts to polar bears. Polar bear numbers have remained healthy throughout their range following past years with less sea ice.

Another issue concerns the failure of the office of the secretary of the Interior Department to provide a timely response to objections raised by the state. The state received its response a full five weeks after the listing already had been adopted.

Governor Parnell said the state will seek partnerships when possible:

"Alaska will work with the federal government, local communities and stakeholders interested in conservation by supporting appropriate conservation measure in those cases that make sense for Alaska."

Audio from the Oct. 21 press conference is available at: http://www.gov.state.ak.us/audio/ESA-GovDOLpresser_Oct21-2009.mp3

The briefs filed Oct. 20 by the State of Alaska with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., can be found at:

Joint Brief: http://www.law.alaska.gov/pdf/press/102109-PolarBear-JointBrief.pdf
Supplemental: http://www.law.alaska.gov/pdf/press/102109-PolarBear-supplemental.pdf


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