Polar Bear listed as threatened species
Author: teddygirl | Wednesday May 28, 2008
The following is from World Wildlife Fund, an organization that protects the world's wildlife and wildlands.
U.S. Government Affirms that Climate Change is Putting Polar Bears in Peril
WWF Applauds Threatened Species Designation
WASHINGTON D.C., May 14, 2008 – Climate change is destroying vital polar bear habitat, putting the species at risk of extinction, the U.S. government said today as it listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s largest conservation organization, said the government’s decision clearly indicates that climate change impacts are already threatening the survivability of animals and habitats, and illustrates the urgency of preparing for and adapting to a rapidly changing climate.
“Today’s decision is a tremendous victory for one of the world’s most iconic and charismatic animals,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF-US. “The other big winner today is sound science, which has clearly trumped politics, providing polar bears a new lease on life.”
Roberts added, “While we applaud today’s announcement, many concerns remain. The 360-page document comes with numerous caveats which we have yet to fully analyze. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was quite explicit in saying, for example, that continued energy production in Alaska remains a priority. WWF strongly disagrees with that position and recently became a plaintiff in the litigation challenging the Chukchi lease-sale—a priority area for WWF and home to one of our nation’s two polar bear populations.”
“WWF commends the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for heeding the unequivocal science that the survival of the polar bear is inextricably tied to its Arctic sea ice habitat, which is melting more rapidly than at any other time in recorded human history,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of WWF’s office in Alaska. “We must take the necessary measures now to help save the polar bear. The ESA listing is an important first step, but we must also address the underlying cause of climate change: rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions.”
Sea ice, which polar bears depend on for hunting seals and other prey, melted to record low levels last summer. The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced earlier this month that current measurements and projections indicate that the 2008 melt season may also be “extreme,” possibly shattering the record set in 2007. Some scientists have predicted that the summer Arctic sea ice could be gone entirely as early as 2013.
“Based on the best available science, if current sea ice trends continue, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be lost by 2050,” said Geoffrey York, coordinator of WWF’s Polar Bear Conservation Program. “The threatened species designation will now provide additional legal protections for the bears, including the conservation of critical habitat and the development of a government-supported recovery plan.”
Citing the well-documented loss of sea ice due to climate change, the FWS recommended in September 2006 that the Interior Department list polar bears as threatened under the ESA. The Interior Department was legally required to issue a formal decision on the ESA listing by January 9, 2008, but failed to do so. On April 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the Department to issue a formal decision on the listing by May 15.
“Today’s announcement is long overdue,” said Williams. “The delay in listing has opened the door to accelerated oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. In February, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department, auctioned off almost 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea for oil and gas exploration.”
WWF is part of a coalition of Alaska native and conservation organizations that filed suit in federal district court in Alaska, arguing that MMS did not adequately weigh the impacts of oil and gas activities on indigenous communities and wildlife along Alaska’s North Slope.
“We should be taking every action possible to reduce stresses on polar bears, and we believe that oil and gas activities pose formidable risks to the Arctic sea ice ecosystem and the polar bears that inhabit it,” said York.
WWF has more than 20 years experience in polar bear and Arctic conservation and has a presence in all of the Arctic countries.
For more information, visit World Wildlife Fund's website.