- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two conservation groups sued the federal government Tuesday, claiming regulators are not doing enough to protect polar bears and walruses against the combined threat of energy exploration and global warming.

The groups say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not fully consider the effects of global warming, such as diminished sea ice, when it wrote regulations allowing for incidental harassment of polar bears and walruses by the oil and gas industry in the Beaufort Sea and nearby coastal areas.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment, asks the federal court to declare the regulations illegal and force the agency to thoroughly analyze how global warming and oil exploration and development affect the mammals.

Polar bears depend on sea ice for their main prey: ringed seals and bearded seals. Beaufort Sea polar bear females use coastal land or sea ice for digging snow caves to give birth.

Female walruses follow the receding ice edge north in spring and summer, using the ice as a platform to dive to the bottom and feed while calves remain up top.

Polar bears can suffer harm from drilling, seismic work and transportation, said Earthjustice attorney Clayton Jernigan, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the California-based groups. The petroleum activities disturb feeding, cause abandonment of maternity dens and disrupt polar bear life cycles, Mr. Jernigan said.

Officials for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate reaction.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act imposes a general moratorium on the taking of marine mammals. The lawsuit focuses on the legal “incidental taking” of polar bears and walruses, a broad definition that covers killing and harassment.

Congress created limited exceptions for occurrences incidental to a specific activity, such as drilling for oil and gas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is authorized to issue regulations for five-year periods for such incidental activity, with the latest issued in August. By law, the total effect on the population must be negligible.

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