Alaska Officials Turn on Polar Bears

Officials in Alaska fear the polar bear"s protection will hurt their financial interests.©

The State of Alaska filed suit in federal court seeking to overturn the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and other state officials fear that federal protection of the polar bear will cripple offshore oil and gas development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the state’s northern coast. Wildlife biologists and environmentalists consider the areas in question critical habitat for the polar bear, whose numbers have been dwindling rapidly in the face of melting sea ice as a result of global warming.

"We believe that the Service’s decision to list the polar bear was not based on the best scientific and commercial data available," Palin told reporters.

Kassie Siegel of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, one of the lead groups petitioning to protect the polar bear (along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace), said that federal scientists addressed skeptics" objections during the listing process, and called the lawsuit "completely ridiculous and a waste of the court’s time."

"This lawsuit and her head-in-the-sand approach to global warming only helps oil companies, certainly not Alaska or the polar bear," she added. "Governor Palin should be working for sustainable, clean energy development in Alaska instead of extinction for the polar bear."

Sources: Center for Biological Diversity; MSNBC