In a path breaking motion on Monday, May 1, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. federal agency for protection of flora and fauna had requested the Supreme Court to designate a major chunk of Arctic ice shelf (120 million acres) as critical polar bear habitat.
The state of Alaska along with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, other local governments, and native corporations filed a petition against the demands of the USFWS.
However, the Supreme Court did not accept the lawsuits filed by the abovementioned corporations and governments, and chose to support the USFWS. The decision comes shortly after President Trump's latest executive order, which attempts to repeal the ban on new offshore oil drilling taking place in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
Native Corporations And Local Governments Fight For Arctic Oil Fields
The case challenging the USFWS — which the Supreme Court shot down — will now give the polar bears access to 187,000 square miles of clean and undisturbed barrier islands, sea ice, and coastal areas of Alaska to settle and breed.
In 2010, the federal government designated the area a critical habitat. Initially, a district court turned down the polar bear habitat designation. However, the decision was later overturned thanks to an appeals court.
The native groups appealing against the USFWS' critical habitat designation of 2010 stated that the federal organization misused its authority and overextended it in the name of conservation. They also stated that the designation of the area as a critical habitat had nothing to do with conservation, and would affect the economy of the country and the region significantly.
Apart from the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the state itself, other groups who protested against this habitat designation included the North Slope Borough, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., NANA Regional Corp. Inc., Calista Corp., Bering Straits Native Corp., Tikigaq Corp., Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., Olgoonik Corp. Inc., Kuupik Corp., the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, and the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp.
The above-mentioned groups petitioned to the Supreme Court that the agency was making "sweeping designations (in this case an area the size of California) that overlap with existing human development (including, even, industrial areas)" all thanks to the decision of the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
The groups also complained that in the state of Alaska, the habitat designations also got in the way of tribal sovereignty and the current ongoing oil drilling operations of the region.
Survival Of Polar Bears Ensured?
The polar bears of the Arctic were listed under the "threatened" category in the Endangered Species Act in 2008. In early 2017, federal officials released a report stating that climate change is the gravest threat the animals face.
The habitat designation for the polar bears in the Arctic are seen as a step to safeguard the animals' survival.
"This victory helps ensure that polar bears keep the habitat protections they need for a shot at surviving our rapidly warming world," Kristen Monsell, attorney at Center for Biological Diversity remarked in support of the Supreme Court's decision.