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Attorney General Issues Statement on Polar Bear Special Rule Decision


October 17, 2011, Anchorage, Alaska - A federal court held that a special rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) adequately provides conservation measures for protecting the polar bear. The District Court of the District of Columbia today denied an environmentalist group’s ESA challenge to the special rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The court’s decision confirms there is no need for additional and unnecessary regulatory permitting requirements.


It also supports the agency’s conclusion that the ESA is not an appropriate tool to regulate greenhouse gases. The special rule recognized the inapplicability of the ESA as a regulatory tool for greenhouse gas emissions, and the inability to link emissions outside the polar bear’s range with any identifiable effects on the polar bear or habitat within its range.


The court also ordered the USFWS to undertake further review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regarding the procedure by which the rule was issued.


Alaska and others had intervened in support of the special rule issued by the USFWS because the polar bear is already protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as treaties and international agreements.


The State is, however, disappointed that the court will be remanding the final rule, issued in December of 2008, for further procedural review under NEPA. While this process continues, the Interim Final Special Rule, issued in May 2008 and effectively equivalent to the final rule, will remain in place.


Attorney General John Burns welcomed the ruling.


“The court’s decision confirms that additional protections under the ESA are unnecessary,” said General Burns. “There was no sound reason to roll back those MMPA measures and rely on other untested programs on the North Slope or other areas within the polar bear’s range. This means that Alaskans, governments, and businesses can continue to safely manage human-bear interactions in their villages and workplaces.”


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