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ACTION TIMELINE

October 30, 2001 – In response to a push by the Bush administration and Alaska congressional delegation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development, the Center successfully filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the release of information about the impacts of oil development on the polar bear. The lawsuit contested the suppression of a report concluding that opening the Arctic Refuge to oil development would likely violate the Polar Bear Agreement, an international treaty requiring the protection of polar bear habitat.

February 16, 2005 – The Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming.

July 5, 2005 – Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council joined the Center’s petition.

December 15, 2005 – The Center, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the Service to force a response to the listing petition.

June 2006 – The Service reached a settlement with the Center and allies in which it agreed to issue a proposed ruling regarding the polar bear’s listing by the end of 2006.

December 27, 2006 – The Service announced its proposal to list the polar bear as threatened.

May 22, 2007 – A coalition of Alaskan Natives and conservation groups, including the Center, legally challenged Shell Offshore, Inc.’s plans to drill exploratory oil wells in the Beaufort Sea in the middle of habitat for several imperiled species, including the polar bear. The challenge resulted in a stay halting drilling in the area pending a court decision as to whether environmental harms were properly considered when Shell was granted an exploration permit.

October 4, 2007 – The Center filed a lawsuit against the Service over its failure to update stock assessments for the polar bear, Pacific walruses and other marine mammals.

March 10, 2008 – The Center, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service for missing its legal deadline for issuing a final decision on listing the polar bear.

April 28, 2008 – A federal judge found that the Bush administration had violated the Endangered Species Act by delaying its listing decision on the polar bear. The judge ordered the Service to issue a final decision by May 15, 2008.

May 14, 2008 – Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that the polar bear would be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. He coupled his announcement with a declaration that the decision would not affect U.S. climate policy, as well as informing the public that he would implement a new “4(d)” rule allowing the United States to “continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region” in what he dubiously termed “an environmentally sound way.”

May 16, 2008 – The Center filed new court papers to challenge the Bush administration’s attempt to withhold full protection from the bear.

June 9, 2008 – The Center filed a notice of intent to sue the Department of the Interior for its failure to protect polar bears from oil development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

June 16, 2008 – The Center, NRDC and Greenpeace filed court papers seeking to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the polar bear’s Endangered Species Act listing. The suit had been brought against the Interior Department by the hunting advocacy group the Safari Club. The intervention was granted July 10.

July 8, 2008 – The Center and Pacific Environment filed suit against Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for issuing regulations that would allow unlimited harassment of polar bears and Pacific walruses by oil companies operating in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

August 15, 2008 – After the state of Alaska filed suit to have the polar bear removed from the endangered species list, the Center filed a motion to intervene. 

October 6, 2008 – The Center, NRDC and Greenpeace reached a partial settlement requiring the secretary of the interior to designate final critical habitat for the polar bear by June 2010 and to issue guidelines on nonlethal strategies under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to deal with bears that pose a threat to public safety by March 2010.

December 11, 2008 – Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced the issuance of a new 4(d) regulation that exempts greenhouse gas emissions from regulation under the Endangered Species Act and weakens polar bear protections even more than did the rule issued at the time of the species’ listing. 

March 10, 2009 – Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill giving the Obama administration power to rescind the Bush rule weakening polar bear protections, as well as the rules gutting the Endangered Species Act, without going through a new, formal rulemaking process. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was given 60 days to use this power.

April 14, 2009 – The Center delivered 52,000 petitions, signed by our online supporters, to Secretary Salazar requesting that the Obama administration rescind the Bush rules weakening polar bear protections and the Endangered Species Act.

April 28, 2009 – Secretary Salazar rescinded the Bush rule gutting the Endangered Species Act but failed to take any action toward true polar bear protections.

April 30, 2009 – Forty-one members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 members of the California legislature submitted letters to Salazar requesting that he revoke the polar bear special rule.

May 5, 2009 – The Center delivered more than 94,000 petitions, along with more than 30 editorials and letters to the editor, to Salazar in support of rescinding the 4(d) rule.

May 8, 2009 – Salazar announced in no uncertain terms that he would leave the 4(d) rule in place.

June 18, 2009 – Responding to a court-ordered deadline (resulting from the Center’s October 2007 suit), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released long-overdue reports confirming the population declines of polar bears and Pacific walruses in Alaska. 

July 8, 2009 – The Center notified the Environmental Protection Agency of our intent to sue over the agency’s failure to consider the impacts of U.S. pesticide use on the polar bear and its Arctic habitat.

October 22, 2009 – After a partial settlement in a lawsuit brought by the Center, NRDC and Greenpeace, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to designate more than 128 million acres (200,541 square miles) of coastal lands and waters along Alaska’s north coast as critical habitat for the bear.

March 31, 2010 – The Obama administration released details of a new national offshore oil-drilling program that would greatly expand oil leasing beyond that ever authorized under Bush, leaving prime polar bear habitat in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas open for leasing.

May 5, 2010 – The Center filed a formal notice of intent to sue Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for failing to assess the impacts on endangered species of a large oil spill that could result from upcoming offshore exploration drilling in polar bear habitat off Alaska.

October 20, 2010 – A federal judge indicated he would order Interior to reconsider its decision to designate the polar bear as merely “threatened” instead of the more protective status of “endangered.” Endangered status would nullify the 4(d) rule preventing the polar bear from receiving full protections.

November 4, 2010 – The judge ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider deeming the bear “threatened” instead of “endangered.”

November 24, 2010 – As a result of a partial settlement of litigation brought by the Center and allies against the Department of the Interior, more than 187,000 square miles (approximately 120 million acres) along the north coast of Alaska were designated as polar bear critical habitat.

December 14, 2010 – More than 150 biologists and climate scientists, as well as more than 140 public-interest groups, called on the Obama administration to follow the best available science in deciding the level of protection polar bears would get under the Endangered Species Act.

December 21, 2010 – The Fish and Wildlife Service, under Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, refused to upgrade the polar bear’s status from “endangered” to “threatened.”

December 23, 2010 – Secretary Salazar issued a revised offshore oil plan allowing drilling in the Chukchi Sea, the heart of polar bear habitat in Alaska. Salazar’s announcement came in response to a previous court ruling, spurred by litigation by the Center and allies, overturning the Bush administration’s previous 2007-2012 plan — but it reaffirmed a 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale.

January 13, 2011 – The Center notified Secretary Salazar of our intent to sue the Interior Department for its failure to protect polar bear critical habitat from harmful oil and gas development in Alaska. We demanded that federal agencies immediately analyze the impacts of drilling in protected habitat and take measures to avoid such impacts.

April 20, 2011 – The Center, Defenders of Wildlife and Greenpeace intervened in the lawsuit brought by oil companies and the state of Alaska meant to overturn critical habitat protections for the bear.

June 30, 2011 – A federal judge upheld the 2008 decision to protect polar bears throughout their range as a “threatened” species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

August 4, 2011 – The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved a plan by Shell Oil to start drilling for oil in the Beaufort Sea in summer 2012 — threatening the polar bear, bowhead whale and other Arctic animals.

October 17, 2011 – U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Department of the Interior violated the environmental review provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued the 4(d) rule excluding from regulation activities occurring outside the range of the polar bear, such as greenhouse gas emissions from polluting facilities like coal plants. The court ordered the Obama administration to issue a final rule after full environmental analysis.

November 30, 2011 – The Center filed a formal petition challenging Canada’s failure to protect polar bears under its Species At Risk Act. The challenge was filed with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an entity established by the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, to monitor the three signatory countries’ compliance with their own environmental laws.

January 23, 2012 – The Center filed a formal request with the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate trade sanctions against Canada for violating the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, a treaty among the five nations within the range of the polar bear, by quadrupling the number of polar bears to be hunted that season from the already-declining Western Hudson Bay population.

April 17, 2012 – The Obama administration announced its reissuing a Bush-era regulation that sharply limits protections for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. Like the previous Bush rule, it would exclude activities occurring outside the range of polar bears — such as the greenhouse gas emissions of industrial polluters like coal plants — from regulations that could help stop the bear’s extinction.

November 30, 2012 – The Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an entity established under NAFTA, announced that the Center’s November 2011 petition challenging Canada’s failure to protect polar bears would move forward under NAFTA’s environmental dispute process. The commission said that our petition provides sufficient documentation of Canada’s violations of its own laws to warrant an official response from the country’s government.

March 1, 2012 – The polar bears's listing was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

May 15, 2013 – On the fifth anniversary of polar bears’ placement on the endangered species list, the Center launched federal litigation challenging the Obama administration’s failure to consider “endangered” status for the polar bear or develop a recovery plan for this gravely imperiled species. A new Center report released that day, On Thin Ice, finds that polar bears face greater threats from melting sea ice and global warming now than they did in 2008, when they were first declared “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

November 18, 2013 – A key NAFTA body today recommended a formal investigation into Canada’s refusal to protect its polar bears despite the grave threats posed to them by climate change. The decision by the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an environmental dispute body established under NAFTA, responds to a 2012 petition by the Center challenging Canada’s denial of “endangered” or “threatened” status to polar bears under the country’s Species At Risk Act.

 

Photo © Thomas D. Mangelsen, ImagesOfNatureStock.com