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State files lawsuit against polar bear habitat

Patti Epler

The state has joined an oil industry trade group in suing the federal government over polar bear habitat protections.

On Wednesday, the state filed a lawsuit in federal court in Alaska over what Gov. Sean Parnell called, in a press release, the government's "unprecedented, expansive designation of critical habitat for polar bears."

The state lawsuit comes a week after a similar filing by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. Arctic Slope Regional Corp. also is expected to file a case challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's designation of more than 187,000 square miles of Arctic coast as critical habitat for the polar bears, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The state, like AOGA, argues that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not take into account the economic impact on the state from the designation. Parnell, in the press release, said the designation would result in new and unnecessary regulations that "simply delay jobs, and increase the costs of, or even prevent, resource development projects that are crucial for the state."

The lawsuits also challenge the scientific conclusions that led the federal government to designate such a large area as critical to the bears' survival. The bears need sea ice in part for their habitat but the designation includes areas that are not in the polar bears' range, the state lawsuit said.

The polar bear was listed as threatened in 2008 and last year, after a lawsuit by environmental groups, designated the area off the Arctic coast as critical habitat. The designation has been a factor in offshore oil exploration because it requires a higher level of review and coordination between the federal agency that issues development permits and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees disruption to various Arctic wildlife populations.

Conservation groups said last week they would seek to intervene in any federal court cases challenging the critical habitat designation.