Polar Bear Gets Federal Protection

"Federal protection for the polar bear sounds the alarm in the clearest way possible that global warming is here and needs to be addressed immediately. Our actions can save the polar bear or cause its extinction. Federal protection represents only the tip of the iceberg if Americans want to save the polar bear. Listing the bear as threatened is not going to save it if we continue to melt and drill its habitat.

"The polar bear has gone from an American icon of strength and beauty to a symbol of our imperiled environment. What will save the polar bear and protect us all is comprehensive global warming legislation that commits to reducing greenhouse gases and creating a clean energy economy."


Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made official its proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species. The decision to list is strongly supported by sound science. The USFWS made its determination after the U.S. Geological Survey released a series of reports last fall that concluded shrinking sea ice caused by global warming could eliminate two-thirds of the world's polar bears - and all of those in Alaska - in the next 50 years.

Polar bears spend most of their lives on sea ice. They use it to hunt ringed seals, their primary prey, and the only ice seal that lives under the frozen ice cap. Polar bears hunt ribbon and bearded seals in broken ice. The summer of 2007 set a record low for sea ice in the Arctic with just 1.65 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado.

The administration has blocked federal efforts to boost renewable fuels that would curb the rate of global warming, refused to participate in the Kyoto international accord that would cap global warming emissions, and has stood on the sidelines as Congress has begun moving comprehensive global warming legislation.

The administration has also aggressively pursued destructive oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, including some of the polar bear's most prized habitat. The most recent example came in last week's finalized 5-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan announced by the Interior Department that would allow oil companies to start drilling in the areas of Alaska's oceans that are most critical to the continued survival of the polar bear. Interior is selling leases for oil and gas development in 73 million acres of the Polar Bear Seas, comprised of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, which are estimated to support more than one-fifth of the world's population of polar bears.

Arctic sea ice has been in decline for decades and polar bears are dependent on it, and the ice seals associated with that habitat. All sea ice models predict at least 30 percent loss of late summer ice by mid-century and most predict ice-free conditions by the end of the century. 

For more on the polar bear's plight, see Audubon Magazine's cover story in the latest issue at http://audubonmagazine.org/index.html. 
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