Polar Bears Win in Climate Change-Related Court Ruling

Federal court orders Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider polar bear rule

On October 17, 2011, a federal judge struck down a Bush administration rule that exempted greenhouse gas emissions from regulation under provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Department of the Interior violated provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a special rule, without proper environmental review, that excluded activities from regulation if they occurred outside the range of the polar bear, such as greenhouse gas emissions from big polluters like coal plants.

The ruling arose from a 2008 lawsuit challenging the Bush exemption filed by Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace.  

“Just this summer, Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest level on record, making polar bear protections more important than ever,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Only by acknowledging and accounting for the dramatic effects of climate change can this administration give this Arctic icon a realistic chance of survival.”

Disappearing Habitat Threatens Polar Bear Survival

The polar bear was the first species added to the endangered species list primarily because of threats from climate change. Its melting Arctic habitat is among the most striking examples of how warming temperatures are changing the face of the planet. Dependent on sea ice to find food and mates, and to den and raise their young, polar bear populations have been severely impacted by their shrinking habitat. Already, reports of drowned, starving and stranded bears, cannibalism and other unusual behavior are becoming more frequent.

What’s Next for Polar Bears?

The court’s ruling mandates that the government go back and undertake a full environmental analysis of the situation of the polar bear before issuing a new final rule on what must be done to prevent its disappearance from U.S. shores.

Defenders of Wildlife will continue to lead the fight to protect polar bears on many fronts, such as  advocating to designate the Arctic Refuge as wilderness, opposing attempts to allow drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and participating in a lawsuit to prohibit the importation of sport-hunted polar bear trophies.

Learn More

Defenders Report: Sea Bear Under Siege

Read our recommendations for helping polar bears survive in a world with less and less sea ice.

Blog: Court Weighs In on Polar Bear Plight

Court Case Background: Polar Bear Litigation