Feds Pitch Polar Bear Habitat

Critics complain move doesn't address main threats
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 23, 2009 1:41 AM CDT
Feds Pitch Polar Bear Habitat
The Obama administration porposes setting aside 200,000 square miles as "critical habitat" for polar bears, an action that could add restrictions to future offshore drilling for oil and gas.   (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FILE)

(Newser) – The federal government has proposed designating 200,000 square miles of land, sea, and ice in northern Alaska as a critical habitat for polar bears. The move is "one step in the right direction to help this species stave off extinction," said an Interior Department official. He acknowledged, however, that the melting of sea ice caused by climate change is the biggest threat to the bears. 

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Conservationists welcomed the move, but complained that new offshore oil and gas developments have already been approved in the habitat, despite the law saying federal agencies cannot "adversely modify" critical habitat. "Hard to see how putting an oil rig in the heart of polar bear habitat does not adversely modify it," a lawyer for an environmental group told the Los Angeles Times.
(Read more habitat stories.)

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