Polar bears can’t go to court, but we can
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Polar bears can’t go to court, but we can

We just sued the Biden administration for issuing a regulation that allows oil and gas companies to harass Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears.

Threatened polar bears can't go to court. But we can.
Polar bears on ice floes in the Beaufort Sea. Photo by NOAA.

The regulation allows operators to degrade animal habitat and harass polar bears in ways that compel the animals to delay or stop feeding, hunting, tending to young, interacting with other bears, and generally focusing on their survival. This harassment includes things like scaring polar bears off with noise, equipment and vehicles, and disrupting polar bear denning and feeding.

“The regulation absolutely and clearly defies the Marine Mammal Protection Act and violates multiple other laws by allowing the harassment of nearly half the population of these already threatened polar bears,” said Trustees attorney Bridget Psarianos in a press release. “Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal obligation to do a thorough analysis of the potentially lethal effects of industry’s harassment of polar bears, and to consider ways to avoid and minimize them. The Biden administration ignored the law and its own science, and handled the process as if stamping an oil industry punch card.”

95 percent chance of death

The Southern Beaufort Sea population of polar bears relies on the North Slope and Beaufort Sea for food, denning, and survival, and already faces climate impacts that make it harder for the animals to find food. Polar bear cub health and survival is essential to this population, yet these cubs, who need significant time in dens with their mothers, are particularly vulnerable to harassment.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own science determined that there would be a 95 percent probability that the North Slope’s oil and gas activities will be lethal to polar bears over the regulation’s five-year period, with polar bear cubs being particularly susceptible to harm.

A Biden administration regulation threatens the health and survival of Beaufort Sea polar bears. Polar bears can't go to court. We can.
Polar bears along the coast of the Beaufort Sea. USFWS photo.

Yet  the agency ignored its own conclusions and renewed the prior five-year authorization as if the latest facts, science, and on-the-ground climate harms do not exist. 

Ignoring, minimizing, breaking the law

Despite Fish and Wildlife Service failing to conduct a thorough analysis and minimizing the real risks its regulation poses to a severely threatened population of polar bears, the agency claims that its regulation will result in negligible impacts.

Not so. In fact, the regulation allows harassment of large numbers of polar bears with significant impact. Our lawsuit charges Fish and Wildlife Service with violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Polar bears can’t go to court. But we can.


The law firm The law firm Trustees for Alaska filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven groups and represents five clients in the case: the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife,  Environment America, and the Sierra Club, which also represents itself. Trustees is co-counseling with the Center for Biological Diversity, which represents itself and Friends of the Earth.