May 14, 2008
WWF has joined with a coalition of Alaska Native and conservation groups who filed suit in federal district court in Alaska on January 31, arguing that in making its decision to hold the lease sale, Minerals Management Service (MMS) – an agency within the DOI – did not adequately weigh the impacts oil and gas activities would have on wildlife like polar bears, or on native villages along Alaska’s North Slope.
The Department of Interior’s (DOI) controversial Lease Sale 193 comprises nearly 30 million acres of pristine waters in the Chukchi Sea of Alaska. The Chukchi Sea is critical habitat for polar bears, walrus, whales, seals, and migratory birds and is experiencing some of the most rapid loss of sea ice in the world due to global warming.
MMS announced its intention to sell oil and gas leases in this critical part of the Arctic Ocean on January 2. Less than one week after that announcement, a different DOI agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), announced it would miss a legally required January 9 deadline for making its final decision on whether to list polar bears as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Polar bear populations are predicted to decline significantly as a result of the drastic impacts of global warming on the bear’s habitat in the Chukchi Sea and across America’s Arctic. As a result of FWS’ delay, this lease sale is taking place before the ESA listing decision, allowing MMS to sell off polar bear habitat to the oil and gas industry without adhering to the protections of the ESA.
WWF, the Native Village of Point Hope, the City of Point Hope, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society are being represented in this suit by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.