Court orders partial redo of rule on potential harm to polar bears

By Michael Doyle, Heather Richards | 03/20/2024 01:36 PM EDT

But the 9th Circuit panel did not halt oil and gas work from going forward in Alaska’s North Slope.

A polar bear with her cubs standing on dirt in front of water.

A polar bear with her cubs along the Beaufort Sea. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Region/Flickr

A divided appeals court Tuesday ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit part of its assessment of how Arctic oil drilling could harm or kill Beaufort Sea polar bears but did not stop work from going forward on Alaska’s North Slope.

While rejecting some environmentalist claims, two members of the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found flaws in the federal agency’s “incidental take regulation” issued in 2021.

In that rule, FWS determined that there would be only minimal unintentional consequences for the polar bear from drilling and related operations.


Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the most serious form of unintentional “take” of a polar bear is ranked as “Level A.” FWS, in turn, divided this into “serious Level A” take, meaning the death of a polar bear, and “non-serious Level A harassment.”