Decision to List Polar Bear as Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act Affirmed.

On March 1, 2013, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear as threatened in 2008 because of shrinking sea-ice habitat. Industry groups challenged the listing determination under the Administrative Procedure Act’s “arbitrary and capricious” standard, arguing that the agency failed to establish a foreseeable extinction risk.  Environmental groups challenged the listing as insufficiently protective, arguing that the polar bear should be listed as endangered.

The District Court rejected all challenges on summary judgment, finding that the claims “amount to nothing more than competing views about policy and science” and therefore the agency receives deference.

The Court of Appeals emphasized that “a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency”. The Court further noted, “The Listing Rule is the product of FWS’s careful and comprehensive study and analysis. Its scientific conclusions are amply supported by data and well within the mainstream on climate science and polar bear biology.”

The opinion is a win for both federal and state agencies that routinely base administrative decisions on scientific modeling and other complex data.