Alaska officials object to FWS polar bear critical habitat proposal

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 31 -- The State of Alaska filed strong objections to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to designate 200,541 sq miles in the state and adjacent ocean as critical habitat for polar bears.

The area would be larger than California and cover nearly the entire US range of polar bears, they noted.

“By law, a critical habitat designation should balance the concern for the species with consideration for economic impacts,” said Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan. “That has not been done here. Moreover, the designation should cover only those areas actually necessary for special protection. Instead, the service has included areas lacking any special features and has ignored the protections already in place for polar bears under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

Denby Lloyd, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said, “Proposing the entire range of a species as critical habitat is inconsistent with the facts and with the service’s own previous decisions on Alaska species such as the Steller’s eider and Northern sea otter.”

Sullivan also emphasized the importance of the state’s role in providing formal comments on the designation of critical habitat and urged the federal agency “to take into account the state’s very legitimate concerns.” Alaska’s state government will continue to monitor how FWS implements critical habitat for polar bears, he indicated.

The proposed designation is overly broad and a job-killer for Alaskans and other Americans, Gov. Sean Parnell maintained.

“While [FWS] has yet to provide an economic study of the impacts from its proposed decision, major oil and gas exploration and development efforts will, at best, be delayed by this designation,” he said. “The service’s overly broad critical habitat designation simply means more projects must jump through more regulatory hoops. Neither Alaska nor our nation can afford these job-killing moves, nor can we remain so dependent on other nations for our energy supplies.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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