WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has rejected Alaska’s attempt to remove polar bears from the threatened species list.
Friday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has major implications because polar bears were the first species to be listed solely on the basis of threats to their survival from global warming.
The D.C. appeals court affirmed a lower court’s ruling supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to put polar bears on the federal threatened list.
Polar bears are not today on the brink of extinction. But the Fish and Wildlife Service says melting sea ice means two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could be gone by 2050.
The appeals court ruled Friday that the Fish and Wildlife Service did a careful and comprehensive analysis before deciding the bears deserve protection.
“Its scientific conclusions are amply supported by data and well within the mainstream on climate science and polar bear biology,” said the ruling, written for the court by Judge Harry Edwards.
The court said there’s no dispute that sea ice is melting. The ice reached a record low this summer, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Polar bears spend much of their lives hunting seals from sea ice.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the anticipated further loss of sea ice habitat will make it harder to find food and force the bears to swim tremendous distances between ice, putting them at risk for drowning.
The state of Alaska had joined with hunting groups and others in fighting the threatened listing.
The Alaska governor’s office did not have an immediate response to its court loss.