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Alaska Native groups sue over Feds' polar bear habitat designation

Alaska Newspapers Staff

Arctic Slope Regional Corp. on Friday filed suit against the Department of the Interior over its designation of more than 187,000 square miles as critical habitat for polar bears on Alaska's North Slope, an area larger than the state of California, an ASRC press release said.

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation is joined by the North Slope Borough and a coalition of Alaska Native groups from the North Slope and Northwest and Alaska in seeking judicial relief for the department's alleged violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Joining ASRC in the lawsuit are the North Slope Borough, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, Kuukpik Corporation, Ukpeaġvik Inupiat Corporation, Olgoonik Corporation, Inc., Cully Corporation, Tikigaq Corporation, the Bering Straits Native Corporation, NANA Regional Corporation and Calista Corporation.

"The Alaska Native community has long been a key partner in the effort to maintain a healthy population of polar bears along the North Slope," said Rex Rock Sr., ASRC president and CEO. "It's disappointing to see our input and our insight, including our legitimate concerns, disregarded by the federal government."

An independent investigation commissioned by ASRC and the state of Alaska into the direct and indirect costs of the Critical Habitat Designation found the financial burden to the state of Alaska, North Slope Borough and ASRC could reach into the billions.

Even a one-year delay in production for a relatively small North Slope oil field (190 million recoverable barrels) would likely equate to a loss of more than $200 million in royalties and tax revenues over 15 years. Because the revenues are shared, these adverse affects would be felt by all Alaska Native shareholders. Almost half of the North Slope oil production comes from an area within the Critical Habitat Designation.

"My biggest concern is how this will affect our communities and local economies," said North Slope Borough Mayor Edward S. Itta. "Ordinary community development is at risk from this designation, and the polar bears aren't helped by it in any way. Their problem is receding sea ice. The only thing this designation accomplishes is to create another threatened species — the people who live here."

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the oil and gas industry accounts for more than 60 percent of the employment and 70 percent of the labor income in the North Slope Borough.

The state of Alaska filed a similar suit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in early March of this year.

A copy of the complaint can be found on the ASRC website: www.asrc.com.

This story is posted with permission from Alaska Newspapers Inc., which publishes six weekly community newspapers, a statewide shopper, a statewide magazine and slate of special publications that supplement its products year-round.