Alaska Native Groups to Sue Over Polar Bear Protection Plan

A coalition of Alaska Native groups says it intends to sue the federal government over a critical habitat designation for polar bears.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) and other native groups said Monday that the Department of Interior’s designation of coastal areas of the North Slope as critical habitat for polar bears will potentially cost the state billions of dollars from delayed offshore drilling projects.

The groups sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and put in a 60-days notice of intention to sue Monday.

Polar bears were first categorized as threatened in 2008 under the Endangered Species Act. The species is suffering rapid habitat loss from diminishing sea ice caused by global warming.

But the groups contend that critical habitat designation will to nothing to combat or end climate change for the polar bears. Instead, they say, the restrictions will hurt Native communities by denying them access to their own resources.

“This, in conjunction with other cumulative impacts with government policy disruption, may force Alaska natives to abandon our ancestral villages in search of new work to support our families,” Tara Sweeney of ASRC said at an afternoon press conference, according to KTUU-TV.

The area in question is more than 187,000 square miles (484,000 square kilometers) in and near the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

“The critical habitat designation does not get at the problem of melting sea ice, so it won’t help the polar bear,” North Slope Borough Mayor Edward S. Itta said, according to The Associated Press. “As a solution, this completely misses the mark.”

Other Alaska Natives support the designation and believe it is essential to the survival of the polar bear. They say the groups are focused on financial losses.

“I think they are looking out for the interests of the corporation,” Kaktovik resident Robert Thompson told KTUU. “ASRC has offshore drilling capacity which might be slowed down with critical habit designation.”

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