By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday upheld Endangered Species Act protections for the polar bear.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit means the bear will remain listed as threatened, the lower of two levels of federal protection.
That designation was originally challenged from two sides. Environmental groups said the bear should be listed as endangered, the highest level of protection, while industry and sporting groups and Alaska said it didn't merit any protection.
Only some of the parties in the latter group joined Alaska in appealing a lower court ruling that upheld the threatened designation. They claimed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding should be thrown out because of deficiencies in the rule-making process.
Although the polar bear listing had sparked some controversy because of disputes over the impact of climate change, the court's ruling did not delve into the underlying science supporting the conclusion it be listed.
The 2008 listing by the administration of President George W. Bush was based in part on assessments of the threat to the bear's habitat caused by the decline in sea ice in the last few decades.
In Friday's ruling, Senior Judge Harry Edwards wrote on behalf of a unanimous three-judge panel that the challengers had "neither pointed to mistakes in the agency's reasoning nor adduced any data or studies that the agency overlooked."
The government's final decision was "reasonable and adequately supported by the record," he added.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Philip Barbara)