Court upholds Endangered Species Act listing for polar bears

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. has upheld the listing of polar bears as threatened.

The polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. Because the appeals court upheld that ruling, no laws change. Companies looking to operate in sensitive habitats will still need to undergo the existing review processes.

Alaska Attorney General Mike Geraghty says it’s too early for the state to decide what options it has. He says that the polar bear population is healthy, and this ruling sets a precedent that it’s legal to preemptively list a species as threatened.

“The polar bear [listing] is based on a 45 year projection,” Geraghty says. “Nobody doubts that the current species has a healthy population. It takes a certain amount of speculation to figure out what’s going to happen 45 years from now with climate change. And also, what about the adaptability of species to loss of habitat?”

But Center for Biological Diversity attorney Kassie Siegel says the science is pretty clear.

“The polar bear’s plight is so clear and so dire there was really no question they deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act,” Siegel says.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to have the polar bear listed under the act.

Siegel says the polar bear is the first species to be placed on the endangered list solely because of climate change. And now that the court has ruled, she says climate policy needs to follow.

“The science on climate change the very real threats on the polar bear have long been indisputable. They are now also legally indisputable as well,” Siegel says. “But what we really need to do now is to get serious about swift greenhouse pollution cuts. Because that’s what we need to do to save polar bears.”

Siegel says it’s only a matter of time before Fish and Wildlife has to upgrade the polar bears’ status from threatened to endangered. But that’s another case entirely.

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