It has only been a fortnight or so since the polar bear was finally listed as an endangered species under the US Endangered Species Act, and already conservationists have supplied some more names for the ESA; ringed, bearded and spotted seals.
The Center for Biological Conservation was the group who filed a petition on February 17, 2005, asking that the polar bear be listed under the ESA. They have followed the landmark decision approving this petition by adding the three seals for consideration as species under threat. The “landmark” aspect of these decisions is that the polar bear was the first animal to be recognized as threatened as a direct result of climate change.
“While the polar bear may be the first Arctic species listed under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming, it will, unfortunately, not be the last,” says Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Scientists from the Center for Biological Conservation believe that tens of thousands more Arctic species will soon need to be listed as endangered, and other conservationists argue that all species that call the Arctic home for a part of their life cycle be admitted to the ESA.
“Arctic sea ice is melting so rapidly in the face of global warming that every ice-dependent marine mammal is imperilled and needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” says Wolf.
However, as with much in the world of environmental news, it is very America biased. This is especially true when it comes to placing the polar bear under the ESA, considering that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed the polar bear on its Red List of endangered species back in 2006. Subsequently, they are working up a set of guidelines that nations can use to properly assess the threat posed by climate change to individual species.
The guidelines will cover existing methods such as the using climate models to decipher where the animal will need to travel too to enjoy conditions necessary for its continued existence. However these methods do not include other threats like poaching or deforestation. Subsequently, any one species could suffer much more than predicted by the IUCN’s current program.
“So you might expect that an animal’s environmental niche will be much reduced but if it’s in 50 years and it’s something like a mouse [with a short generation time] then it couldn’t be red listed under current criteria,” says Lera Miles, senior programme officer at the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Wendy Foden of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature agreed. “The current system won’t fail it, but it won’t catch it as early on its decline as we’d like.”
Thankfully Foden and her colleagues are working on a second way of assessing the future threat to individual species at the hands of climate change. “We are working with life history traits –if a species has very specific requirements, how will those be affected by climate change?” says Foden.
But as much as providing these guidelines will help, there then arises the question of just what can be done to help these species, because as much as we’d like to think it was as easy as banning poaching or hunting, banning climate change is just not a feasible method (though maybe something to look in to).