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In re Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing

ELR Citation: 40 ELR 20008
Nos. No. 08-764, (D.D.C., 11/04/2010)

A district court remanded the FWS' final rule listing the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the ESA. Shortly after FWS issued the rule, several groups filed suit, some arguing that the polar bear should have been listed as endangered, and others arguing that the bear does not qualify for any protection under the Act because the polar bear does not meet the definition of a threatened species. In support of the rule, the FWS argued that, as a matter of law, an “endangered species” must be in imminent danger of extinction. But the court rejected the FWS's erroneous conclusion that an imminence requirement is mandated by the plain meaning of the statute. Because the FWS failed to acknowledge ambiguities in the definition of an endangered species, the court could neither defer to the agency’s plain meaning interpretation nor impose its own interpretation of the statute. Instead, the court remanded the listing rule to the agency to treat the statutory language as ambiguous. Because the court did not rule on the lawfulness of the listing rule, it will remain in force during the remand period.