Polar Bear Finally Listed as ‘Endangered’

359515298_8bd7a94810 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.


credit: mape_s at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

5 thoughts on “Polar Bear Finally Listed as ‘Endangered’”

  1. John Schneider

    Um… Anyone notice that the polar bear populations are growing? Anyone realize that the polarbear has more acreage to roam then say oh any three states put together. So if the rules say they need to be protected, the rules or at least the assumptions that allowed the polar bears anywhere near the list should have been changed.

  2. Why Do We Care If Polar Bears Become Extinct?
    This is not any sort of revelation: Polar bears declared a threatened species , but it does raise the question: Why do we care? By some estimates, 90% of all species that once existed are now extinct and new species are always taking their place. For the species that’s going to become extinct, for whatever reason, extinction is the end of it. However, for the species that remain, is the extinction of another species good or bad? When Europeans first colonized North America, there was an estimated five (5) billion Passenger Pigeons alive and well in North America. In 1914, they were extinct. Passenger Pigeons didn’t live in little groups, but huge flocks that required extraordinary quantities of hardwood forests for them to feed, breed and survive. Deforestation to build homes, create farmland and over hunting for cheap food decimated their population. The westward drive to grow the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s was incompatible with the needs of the Passenger Pigeon and they literally could not survive in the new North America being carved out by the U.S. economy. The interesting thing about the Passenger Pigeon was the impact its extinction had on another species—man. That impact was essentially none. Man continued to find ways to feed himself through agriculture and other technologies and the United States and its citizens continued to prosper from the early 20th century till today. Whether or not Polar Bears become extinct because of Global Climate Change or other reasons, we need to address the larger question of: Do we care and why? One of the ways a nation, its citizens and the global community can answer that question is addressed by John A. Warden III in Thinking Strategically About Global Climate Change. He asks some interesting biodiversity questions in his post to include How Many Species Is the Right Number and Which Ones?

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