For a long time now we’ve spoken about the continuing effort by US and other environmental and animal rights groups to get the polar bear listed on the United States Endangered Species Act.
Polar bear populations have been declining over the past few years, attributable, some claim, to man-made global warming. Al Gore helped the plight of the polar bear by including in his award winning An Inconvenient Truth a cartoon of a polar bear swimming, unable to find land. The cartoon was inspired by evidence that some polar bears had drowned – a hitherto unforeseen occurrence.
So it is good news that on Wednesday the Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the polar bear has finally been listed as “threatened” under the ESA. However he was certain to ensure in his announcement that the decision should not be “misused” 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 Endangered Species Act 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.”
Not surprisingly, the announcement has been met with mixed reviews.
Some environmental groups are expressing concern over the climate change caveats that have been placed on the decision.
“This decision is a watershed event because it has forced the Bush administration to acknowledge global warming’s brutal impacts,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s not too late to save the polar bear, and we’ll keep fighting to ensure that the polar bear gets the help it needs through the full protections of the Endangered Species Act. The administration’s attempts to reduce protection to the polar bear from greenhouse gas emissions are illegal and won’t hold up in court.”
On the other hand however, there are those who are praising the decision.
“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 World Wildlife Fund US on the group’s Web site. “The other big winner today is sound science, which has clearly trumped politics, providing polar bears a new lease on life.”
That the decision has finally been made is without a doubt a blessing, and will hopefully go a long way to ensuring the survival of one of this planet’s most majestic creatures. However it is hard to escape the fact that the US government simply failed to follow the rules in naming the polar bear on the ESA, presumably to secure the $2.7 billion lease of oil reserves in the Chuckchi Sea.
“Had the polar bear been listed prior to January 9 as the law required, that lease sale could not have moved forward without some substantial additional review of the impacts to polar bears,” said Siegel.
Either way, we can only hope that those fighting for the polar bear will make the most of this new ruling to provide a measure of safety and security.