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Alaska Polar Bear Habitat Under Protest

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Why would an endangered animal not under threat from poaching need a special area designated in order to survive?

Native Alaskan groups are asking that very question, and objecting to the federal government’s decision to put aside more than 187,000 square miles of land an ocean to shelter polar bears.

They are threatening to sue over the recent designation, the Anchorage Daily Newsreported Jan. 18.

“We want and need to be part of the discussions,” North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta told the newspaper. He stressed that the habitat designation “doesn’t create more ice and doesn’t increase the polar bear population.”

The Arctic Slope Regional Corp., one of about 10 Native groups angered by the decision, joins the Center for Biological Diversity and the State of Alaska in considering legal action against the U.S. Department of the Interior over the habitat designation and other polar bear issues.

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The Center for Biological Diversity has filed preliminary paperwork in an upcoming suit against the Interior Department for not protecting the bears from offshore oil and gas development, and the state said that imposing the critical habitat designation will only add to an already onerous and expensive slate of regulations.

In its defense, the Interior Department said that all the designation does is force federal agencies to check back with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that development projects are not harmful to the polar bears, the Anchorage Daily News said.

Arctic Slope said that the federal decision was illegal because it didn’t address Alaska Native concerns, the paper reported. The organization had requested that regulators exclude Native-owned lands from the designated habitat but were turned down.

Itta favors safer drilling but did not appreciate the extra red tape such a designation would bring, especially if it weren’t going to protect the bears anyway, the Anchorage Daily News said.

“This is a poor attempt to legislate climate change through regulation,” said Rex Rock Sr., chief executive of Arctic Slope, in a statement.