June 24, 2008

Alaska, polar bears, and conservation

By Alaska, polar bears, and conservation

Regarding the (Alaska Governor Sarah) Palin Administration's 60-day notice in opposition to the polar bear listing (available here), Jeannette C. Schuster recently remarked on Tonkon Torp LLP's Sustainability Law Blog that

[c]onsidering that Alaska touts itself as "the premier destination for adventure and ecotourists seeking a personal connection with nature, wilderness and the local people," the Governor's position seems to be selling the state of Alaska short.

This comment seems to be a bit unfair to Governor Palin.  First, although the quoted text appears to come from Governor Palin herself or someone speaking on her behalf, it actually comes from the Alaska Travel Industry Association, a private trade group.

More importantly, it's not entirely clear that Governor Palin's opposition to the listing is "selling the state of Alaska short" or, for that matter, inconsistent with Alaska's commitment to environmental interests and the polar bear in particular.  Rather, it may be that Alaska is doing much to promote environmental conservation and does not wish to incur the significant regulatory burdens that will accompany the polar bear's listing as a threatened species — burdens that no doubt would impact all Alaskans, not simply those directly involved in the oil and gas industry, as Schuster's post implies.  Consider also the comments of the Alaska Department of Resources Commissioner, Tom Irwin: "Inappropriate implementation of this listing decision could result in widespread social and economic impacts, including increased power costs and further increases in fuel prices, without providing any more protection for the species."

Alaska's 60-day notice demonstrates, that whatever the reasons for Governor Palin's opposition to the listing, it is not about hostility towards ecotourism, nature, wilderness, and the like:

Secretary [Kempthorne] failed to give sufficient weight to the efforts "being made by any State or foreign nation, or any political subdivision of a State or foreign nation, to protect such species . . . ."  16 U.S.C. § 1533(b)(1)(A).  Clearly, the significant increase in polar bear numbers due to conservation efforts within the State of Alaska and conservation programs and regulations within and between foreign nations and the United States speaks to the effectiveness of these efforts directly precluding the need to list a healthy population of a species as threatened at this time.  Adequate regulatory mechanisms do exist and finding otherwise is a violation of the ESA.

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