Tomorrow, Friday, May 16, is Endangered Species Day. To celebrate, the Bush Administration has made the historic decision to list the polar bear as endangered while promising to do absolutely nothing substantive about it.
Today, the Bush Administration listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but refused to address the main threats to the species – habitat loss, drilling and global warming. At the Endangered Species Coalition, we welcome the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, but we urge the Bush Administration to halt drilling in the bear’s habitat.
I guess it is hard for Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to ignore drowning polar bears and the science that shows that they are endangered. However, we are alarmed that they are ignoring the impacts of drilling and global warming on the polar bears’ sea ice habitat.
I would ask Secretary Kempthorne: if we are not going to stop the factors that are contributing to the loss of polar bear habitat and the melting of the sea ice, how are we going to protect the polar bear?
The administration is creating exemptions under a 4d rule that appear to limit protections for polar bears from oil and gas drilling in their habitat. We know that species listed under the Endangered Species Act are much more likely to survive and recover than those that are left off the list. By listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, it increases bear's chances of surviving. However, we are concerned that the Bush Administration is ignoring the impact of global warming and drilling on the polar bears’ sea ice habitat. We urge them not to allow drilling in the Chukchi Sea and other polar bear habitat by drilling loopholes in the Endangered Species Act.
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne also announced that the department will propose “modifications to the existing ESA regulatory language.” In the past, the Bush Administration has proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act that would dramatically weaken protections for endangered species and their habitat and used Solicitors Opinions to circumvent the law.
We are troubled about how this administration has reinterpreted the intent of the Endangered Species Act in the past and how they may attempt to weaken protections for endangered species in the future. We urge them to protect the polar bear and its habitat instead of using loopholes to weaken the law and science to protect species.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “Projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately 2/3 of the world’s current polar bear population by the mid 21st century. Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by currently available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative.”
The law - and the American people – demand that the best science, and only science, be used to determine which plants and animals receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. Clearly, the science says that polar bears need our help and need the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act. The administration shouldn’t ignore the science to protect its habitat. The polar bear is only as protected as its habitat.
The listing of the polar bear is a drastic change from the Bush Administration’s track record on endangered species protections. The Bush Administration has systematically undermined scientific decisions to protect endangered species. Currently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Department of Interior's Inspector General's office are investigating allegations of interference in a number of different Endangered Species Act-related decisions. Last year, Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald resigned after being investigated for her role in undermining the scientific integrity of numerous decisions. The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on political interference in endangered species protections on May 21st.
Endangered Species Coalition
Photo of polar bears stranded on melting ice courtesy of ScienceBlogs.