• Polar Bear Critical Habitat Rule Set Aside
  • January 25, 2013
  • Law Firm: Hunton Williams LLP - Richmond Office
  • On January 11, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska set aside a final rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in 2010 that designated more than 187,000 square miles of land and coastal waters in Alaska as critical habitat for the polar bear. The polar bear is listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Several oil and gas companies, Alaska Native groups, and the state of Alaska challenged the critical habitat rule. The court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs in a 50-page ruling, finding that the Service failed to establish sufficient evidence to support the rule. In particular, the court held that the Service failed to demonstrate that much of the designated area contained the features needed to support critical habitat designation, such as area denning or rearing areas. The decision may establish an important landmark on the sufficiency of evidence and validity of scientific methods used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) in ESA listing and designation decisions.