Bush administration proposes to list polar bears as threatened
Dec 29,2006 00:00 by Bend Weekly News Sources

Sec­re­tary of the In­te­ri­or Dick Kemp­thorne cit­ed cli­mate change as a key rea­son for the threat to po­lar bears. 

The state­ment prompted en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists to see in the move a pos­si­bly ma­jor de­par­ture from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s past in­at­ten­tion to the glob­al warm­ing threat.

“Po­lar bears are one of na­ture’s ul­ti­mate sur­vivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world’s harsh­est en­vi­ron­ments,” said Kemp­thorne. “But we are con­cerned the po­lar bears’ hab­i­tat may lit­er­al­ly be melt­ing.”

Courtesy Dave Olsen, USFWS
En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists hoped that rec­og­ni­tion of the threat would mean the U.S. gov­ern­ment would beg­in to force pol­luters to lim­it emis­sions of green­house gas­es, which sci­en­tists see as large­ly re­spon­si­ble for the cli­mate change. In­dus­t­ri­al ac­tiv­i­ties and au­to­mo­biles are key sources of the gas­es.

The pro­pos­al is “a vic­to­ry for the po­lar bear, and all wild­life threat­ened by glob­al warm­ing,” said Kassie Siegel, a law­yer for the Tuc­son, Ariz.-based Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­si­ty.

A study pub­lished this month sug­gested Arc­tic sum­mers could be near­ly
ice-free by 2040, a dis­as­ter for po­lar bears and oth­er spe­cies that live on the ice. 

The Fish and Wild­life Serv­ice will use the next year to gath­er more in­for­ma­tion be­fore de­ci­ding wheth­er to list the spe­cies, Kemp­thorne said.

“I am di­rect­ing the U.S. Fish and Wild­life Serv­ice and the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey to ag­gres­sive­ly work with the pub­lic and the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty over the next year to broad­en our un­derstanding of what is hap­pen­ing with the spe­cies. This in­for­ma­tion will be vi­tal to the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion on wheth­er the spe­cies should be list­ed,” Kemp­thorne said.

The pro­pos­al cites the threat to po­lar bear pop­u­la­tions caused by re­ced­ing sea ice, which bears use as a plat­form to hunt for prey. 

Stud­ies have re­vealed a de­cline in late sum­mer Arc­tic sea ice to the ex­tent of 7.7 pe­r­cent per dec­ade and in the pe­rennial sea ice ar­ea of 9.8 pe­r­cent per dec­ade since 1978, Kemp­thorne said. Ob­ser­va­tions have like­wise shown a thin­ning of the Arc­tic sea ice of 32 pe­r­cent from the 1960s and 1970s to the 1990s in some lo­cal ar­e­as.

There are 19 po­lar bear pop­u­la­tions in the Arc­tic, con­tain­ing an es­ti­mat­ed to­tal of 20,000-25,000 bears. 

“We have suf­fi­cient sci­en­tif­ic ev­i­dence of a threat to the spe­cies to war­rant pro­pos­ing it for list­ing, but we still have a lot of work to do to en­hance our sci­en­tif­ic mod­els and anal­y­ses be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion,” said U.S. Fish and Wild­life Serv­ice Di­rec­tor Dale Hall.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion treats cli­mate change very se­ri­ous­ly and rec­og­nizes the role of green­house gas­es in cli­mate change,” the In­te­ri­or De­part­ment said in its state­ment an­nounc­ing the pro­pos­al Wednes­day.

Source: http://www.world-science.net