An attempt by the state of Alaska and several special interest groups to appeal a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decision to designate over 120 million acres of Arctic ice shelf as a critical polar bear habitat has been quashed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The plaintiffs complained of “federal overreach”, “activities that could negatively affect its’ economy” and even challenging the science behind the conservation effort, but the Supreme Court upheld the decision. Whilst recent reforms and governmental policy have shifted towards a pro-business direction at the cost of the environment; it’s good to see that common sense continues to prevail.
This move has been directly linked to Donald Trump’s latest executive order, which enables oil and gas companies to expand drilling activities into marine sanctuaries and national parks. Amongst the groups that challenged USFWS’s motion include the Alaska Oil & Gas Association and a multitude of local governments and native corporations. Ever since the land has been earmarked by the Federal government as a polar bear habitat in 2010, it has been met with a lot of local anger.
From accusations of federal overreach, to court battles over the “polar bear habitat” designation, the area has been a battleground between conservationists and local industry. The latter argued that the land the USFWS wanted to make off limits included industrial-zoned areas and places of economic and cultural significance. On the other hand, the Service countered saying the 187,000 square miles they had chosen were clean, undisturbed barrier islands surrounded in sea ice.
Whilst scientists and conservationists lauded the Supreme Court’s decision as a win for the environment, Alaska Oil & Gas stuck by its’ argument saying: “Polar bears are threatened by projected loss of sea ice habitat due to climate change, not on-the-ground activities in the Arctic.” – Which most would argue are one and the same, and could explain why the Supreme Court refused to give an explanation for its decision to not hear the case.
This latest decision is a major win for conservationists. The area will now be a secure, protected habitat and breeding grounds for a species that has been increasingly under pressure as climate change continues to degrade their ecosystem. Polar bears are currently listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, which describes the species in that category as “likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve”.