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Defenders of Wildlife

President Bush to Decide Fate of Polar Bear

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A U.S. court has given U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) until 2:00 pm on Thursday, May 15 for a final decision. The agency missed another legally required deadline in January, allowing almost 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea to be auctioned for oil and gas exploration. Once a species is listed, FWS is required to designate critical habitat and develop a recovery plan, essentially a guide for management actions with the goal of recovering wildlife populations. Citing loss of polar sea ice due to climate change, FWS proposed listing the species as threatened under the ESA in September 2006. The Administration has since refused to issue a formal decision.


WWF is the only non-governmental organization working in every Arctic country to protect polar bears and their habitat. WWF scientists from the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Russia, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands are in Washington this week and are also available for interviews.

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Guest Kassie Siegel

This court victory leaves the administration in a quandary it has long sought to avoid: it must either acknowledge the threat to polar bears from global warming and list the bear, paving the way for the Endangered Species Act's strong regulatory provisions to address greenhouse gas emissions, or refuse to list and face yet another court battle that it almost certainly cannot win.


One of the best features of the Endangered Species Act, our nation's most successful law for the protection of plants and animals on the brink of extinction, is that it requires all listing decisions to be based "solely on the best available scientific information." In the more than three years since the petition was filed, scientific data showing the urgent nature of the polar bear's plight has accumulated rapidly. Polar bear populations are declining, and individual bears are already drowning, starving, and even resorting to cannibalism as their sea-ice habitat melts beneath their feet. And the ice is melting faster than forecast. The minimum sea-ice extent on September 16, 2007 was about one million square miles below the average minimum sea ice extent between 1979 and 2000. The 2007 minimum was lower than the sea-ice extent most climate models predict would not be reached until 2050 or later. Leading sea ice researchers now believe that the Arctic could be completely ice free in the summer as early as 20 2.


In September 2007, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that two thirds of the world's polar bears, including all of the bears in Alaska, will be gone by 2050 if "business as usual" greenhouse gas emissions trends continue. The USGS further noted that its projections are conservative, as they did not account for the more rapid than predicted melting of the Arctic sea ice.


There is no way, faced with a statue that requires the listing decision to be based "solely on the best available scientific information," that the Bush administration can lawfully do anything other than list the polar bear as an endangered species. But doing so will be a sharp departure from the administration's more than seven years of relentless denial and downplaying of the science of global warming, Bush's recent climate speech notwithstanding.


Most importantly, though, the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to identify the causes of a listed species' imperilment, and then actually reduce or eliminate those threats. It is critically important to protect polar bears from threats such as oil and gas development, oil spills, and overhunting in some areas that threaten polar bears in combination with global warming, and there is no question that the law will do so. But perhaps most importantly, because greenhouse gas emissions are the leading threat to the polar bear, the Endangered Species Act will require federal agencies emitting, authorizing, or funding major sources of greenhouse gas emissions to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the cumulative impact of those emissions to the polar bear, and then to take steps to reduce them to avoid jeopardizing the polar bear.


The administration publicly claims that the Endangered Species Act does not apply to greenhouse gas emissions. But greenhouse gas emissions are not fundamentally different from pesticides, or anything else that poisons our land, air, and water to such an extent that it harms listed species and is therefore regulated under the Act. The administration's legal position is weak if not untenable, as demonstrated by the fact that Bush felt the need to rhetorically attack the Endangered Species Act, along with the equally troublesome Clean Air Act, during his Rose Garden speech last week.


The whole world is watching to see what the administration will do on May 15. To sign our petition asking for an immediate listing as endangered, visit http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2167/...tition_KEY=1178. For more on how to help to protect the polar bear, please visit http://www.biologicaldiversity.org.

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Guest Dan Ashe

Climate change is driving environmental change at a pace and scale we’ve never seen. That means we must think and act differently than ever before. We must adjust how we think about the objective, scale, scope and timing of conservation. This is our call to arms.

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Guest LAW_*

Future reduction of sea ice in the Arctic could result in a loss of 2/3 of the world's polar bear population within 50 years according to a series of studies released last September 7 by the U.S. Geological Survey.


During a six-month period of intensive analysis of both existing and new data, the team documented the direct relationship between the presence of Arctic sea ice and the survival and health of polar bears. Polar bears depend on sea ice as a platform to hunt seals, their primary food. But sea ice is decreasing throughout their Arctic range due to climate change. Models used by the USGS team project a 42 percent loss of optimal polar bear habitat from the Polar Basin during summer, a vital hunting and breeding period, by mid-century.


In addition to forecasts, declines in habitat have been recorded throughout the Polar Basin over the past 20 years of observations. To project future sea ice conditions, USGS scientists used 10 general circulation models that best approximated observed trends in sea-ice loss and could be expected to do the best job of simulating future conditions. Scientists characterize their conclusions as conservative because even the best available models are believed to underestimate the actual decline in Arctic sea ice.


The reports are available to the public at Polar Bear Finding Web page.




Contact Information:

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

Office of Communication

119 National Center

Reston, VA 20192


Mike Gauldin

Phone: 703-648-4460


Karen Wood

Phone: 703-648-4447

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Guest DC1974

Looks like nature is already answering the call. Grizzly bears have been showing up in the Canada's western Arctic as far north as Banks Island and Victoria Island. Grizzlies are known to occasionally to go out on the ice in the spring to feed on seals killed by polar bears. A Grizzly–polar bear hybrid is a rare ursid hybrid that has occurred both in captivity and in the wild. In 2006, the occurrence of this hybrid in nature was confirmed by testing the DNA of a strange-looking bear that had been shot in the Canadian arctic. Previously, the hybrid had been produced in zoos and was considered a "cryptid" (a hypothesized animal for which there is no scientific proof of existence in the wild). Although, Polar bears and grizzly bears are known to prey on each other during most of the year the rules change during the breeding season. Polar bears and grizzly bears may have more offspring-producing encounters in the future. The problem is that thier offspring might not be attractive to other bears.

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Guest Shane Wolfe

Secretary Kempthorne Announces Decision to Protect Polar Bears under Endangered Species Act

Rule will allow continuation of vital energy production in Alaska


Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced that he is accepting the recommendation of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species.


In making the announcement, Kempthorne said, “I am also announcing that this listing decision will be accompanied by administrative guidance and a rule that defines the scope of impact my decision will have, in order to protect the polar bear while limiting the unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States.”


Kempthorne further stated, “While the legal standards under the ESA compel me to list the polar bear as threatened, I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting. Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective. That is why I am taking administrative and regulatory action to make certain the ESA isn’t abused to make global warming policies.”


In January 2007, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the polar bear as threatened throughout its range based on receding sea ice. At that time, Secretary Kempthorne directed the Fish and Wildlife Service and the USGS to aggressively work with the public and the scientific community to broaden understanding of what is happening with the species. In September 2007, the USGS delivered to the Fish and Wildlife Service nine studies related to the future condition of the polar bear and its habitat.


Declines in Sea Ice Documented


Kempthorne illustrated the listing decision with charts depicting satellite images of the differences in sea ice from the fall of 1979 to the fall of 2007. (Studies and models at http://www.doi.gov/issues/polar_bears.html). Last year, Arctic sea ice fell to the lowest level ever recorded by satellite, 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. The amount of sea ice loss in years 2002-2007 exceeded all previous record lows.


In developing the nine studies it delivered to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS relied upon 10 peer-reviewed climate models, all of which project a decline in Arctic sea ice in the future. In particular, the models project declines in September sea ice of more than 30 percent by the middle of the 21st century. Four of the 10 models project declines in September sea ice in excess of 80 percent by the mid -21st century. Seven of the 10 models show a 97 percent loss in September sea ice by the end of the 21st century.


Based on actual observations of trends in sea ice over the past three decades, these models may actually understate the extent and change rate of projected sea ice loss.


Under the ESA, five factors determine whether a species is to be listed. One of those factors is whether there is present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat.


According to the ESA, a species is listed as “threatened” when it is at risk of becoming “endangered” within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. In contrast, a species is “endangered” when it is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall recommended the listing decision. U.S. Geological Survey Director Mark Myers concurs with the scientific findings that support the decision.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drew upon biological information on the bear, careful consideration of whether the bear can adapt to new habitat conditions, over 30 years of actual sea ice observations, and dozens of studies and models on sea ice.

4(d) Rule and Marine Mammal Protection Act


In making the decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, Kempthorne also announced he was using the authority provided in Section 4(d) of the ESA to develop a rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards imposed by the marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the Endangered Species Act with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.


The conservation measures provide that the production, interstate sale, and export of native handicrafts by Alaska natives may continue and that the subsistence harvest of polar bears is not affected.


ESA Not Intended to Regulate Global Climate Change


In making the announcement today, Secretary Kempthorne reiterated President Bush’s statement last month that the ESA was never intended to regulate global climate change. “Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears. But it should not open the door to use of the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources,” said Kempthorne. “That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the ESA law. The ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy.”


Last month President Bush said, “The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate change.”

He said, “There is a right way and wrong way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The American people deserve an honest assessment of the costs, benefits and feasibility of any proposed solution. Discussions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges but should be debated openly and made by the elected representatives of the people they affect.” Kempthorne said, “This Administration has taken real action to deal with the challenges of climate change.”


Our incentives for power production from wind and solar energy have helped to more than quadruple its use. The President explained we have worked with Congress to make available more than $40 billion in loan guarantees to support investments that will avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants. In remarks on April 16, the President said that the Administration and the private sector plan to dedicate nearly a billion dollars to clean coal research and development.


Memorandum of Understanding with Canada

Kempthorne acknowledged Canada has not listed polar bears as threatened even though they have two-thirds of the world’s population of the species. “Last week, I went to Canada and explored this issue. The Canadian law is different from U.S. law with respect to endangered species, both in its criteria for listing and administrative process for making listing determinations.”


While in Canada, Kempthorne signed a Memorandum of Understanding with his Canadian counterpart, John Baird, the minister of environment, for the conservation and management of polar bear populations shared by the U.S. and Canada.


Next Steps

To make sure the ESA is not misused to regulate global climate change, Kempthorne promised the following actions:


* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a 4(d) rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the ESA with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.

* Director Hall will issue guidance to staff that the best scientific data available today cannot make a causal connection between harm to listed species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, or resource development project or government action.

* The Department will issue a Solicitor’s Opinion further clarifying these points.

* The Department will propose common sense modifications to the existing ESA regulatory language to prevent abuse of this listing to erect a back-door climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability.


Additionally, the Department will continue to:


* monitor polar bear populations and trends,

* study polar bear feeding ecology,

* work cooperatively with the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and the North Slope Borough for co-management of the polar bears in Alaska,

* provide technical assistance to the participants of the 1988 North Slope Borough Inuvialuit Game Council Agreement for the conservation of polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea region and monitor the effects of oil and gas operations in the Beaufort Sea region.


The proposed ESA special 4(d) rule is available at (http://www.doi.gov/issues/polar_bears.html) for a 60 day public comment period.

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Guest Clayton Jernigan

By listing the bear as threatened, instead of endangered, and adopting weaker protections for polar bears and their habitat, the administration is attempting to make it easier for oil and gas development to proceed on a fast track in prime polar bear habitat.



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