US court challenge to protect polar bears and walrus in the Beaufort Sea | WWF

US court challenge to protect polar bears and walrus in the Beaufort Sea

Posted on
16 February 2007
Three environmental organisations in the US have filed a suit that challenges US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulations that allow oil and gas activities in the Beaufort Sea and adjacent coastal plains to harm polar bears and walruses.

Polar bears and walrus are facing a serious threat in the Arctic from expanding oil and gas exploration because federal regulations do not assess the combined risks posed by such activity and global warming.

The suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Centre for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment on 13 February.

The FWS has identified global climate change as the principal threat to polar bear survival.

Clayton Jernigan, an attorney with the Earthjustice, said: "Polar bears can suffer harm from activities such as drilling, seismic work and transportation which disturb feeding, cause abandonment of maternity dens and generally disrupt polar bear life cycles."

Kassie Siegel, climate programme director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said: "The government is well aware that global warming threatens polar bears with extinction and is transforming the entire arctic ecosystem, yet these regulations fail to take this into account.”

Siegel was lead author of the petition that recently convinced the federal government to propose listing the polar bear as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming.

By issuing the regulations without taking global warming into account, the suit says, the FWS violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The suit asks that the court declare the regulations unlawful and require the agency to do a thorough analysis of how global warming and oil exploration and development affect polar bears and walruses. The suit also aims to guarantee that any new regulations be based on such analysis to assure the animals' safety.

A male polar bear (Ursus maritimus) in the Southern Beaufort Sea.
© Eric Regehr / USGS
Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens).
© WWF / Kevin SCHAFER