Monday, October 6, 2008

Feds to Designate Critical Habitat for Polar Bears

The Interior Department announced today that it has agreed to designate "critical habitat" for the recently-listed polar bear.

A spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency doesn't yet know what portion of the Chukchi Sea might be designated and noted that the federal government is coping with uncertainty about how much of the Arctic Ocean region may be free of ice in the summer in future years.

Because the Endangered Species Act prohibits federal government actions that could damage critical habitat, the decision could result in restrictions on future offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

The announcement came as part of a settlement of a lawsuit challenging the Bush Administration's failure to designate critical habitat filed by several environmental advocacy organizations in March.

The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in Oakland, CA. According to Kassie Siegel, a spokesperson for one of the environmental group plaintiffs, the critical habitat designation will be made next year. The government agreed to a June 30, 2009 deadline for the final specification of critical habitat for the polar bear.