ANCHORAGE — The federal government will designate "critical habitat" for polar bears off Alaska's coast, a decision that could add restrictions to future offshore petroleum exploration or drilling.
Federal law prohibits agencies from taking actions that may adversely modify critical habitat and interfere with polar bear recovery. That probably will affect oil and gas activity, said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of three groups that sued to get a critical habitat designation.
"Other than global warming, the worst thing that's going on in polar bear habitat right now is oil development and the potential for oil spills," Siegel said.
Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said it's not known what area in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska might be designated for polar bears, especially given that sea ice conditions are changing and areas now covered by ice might in the future be open water.