Polar Bears Listed as Threatened Species, but Fish and Wildlife Takes Climate Change Out of Most Endangered Species Act Determinations

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In a much-anticipated decision guaranteed to please almost no one, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) has listed polar bears as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). Acting one day before a court-ordered deadline, the agency issued a 368-page determination that polar bear habitat, primarily sea ice, is declining throughout the bears’ range due in large part to changes in climate. The ruling, however, together with an accompanying guidance, places limitations on when the Service will consider climate change in evaluating agency actions that might affect not just polar bears but any listed species. This move could undermine court decisions that have ordered the Service to include climate change analysis in its ESA consultations.

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