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For Immediate Release, May 7, 2009

Contact: Bill Snape, (202) 536-9351

Forty-nine Law Professors Call on Secretary Salazar to Rescind Bush
Administration Rule Weakening Protections for the Polar Bear  

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Law professors from around the country sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today urging him to rescind a “special rule” created by the Bush administration that sharply limits protections for the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.

“The polar bear deserves the same protections all other endangered species receive,” said David Hunter, director of the environmental law program at American University’s Washington College of Law. “Secretary Salazar should use authority granted to him by Congress to rescind the special rule for the polar bear.”

Congress passed legislation on March 10 giving Secretary Salazar power until May 9 to revoke, with the stroke of a pen, both the special rule for the polar bear and a rule that exempted thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gas emissions, from review by expert scientists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services. This latter “consultation” rule was rescinded by the Obama administration last week, but Secretary Salazar has not rescinded the polar bear special rule nor given any indication of whether he is inclined to do so.

Should Salazar fail to rescind the special rule for the polar bear, he will severely undermine protection for the species. The rule prohibits regulation of any activities threatening the polar bear that occur outside of the Arctic. The polar bear, however, is endangered precisely because of activities occurring outside the Arctic, namely emission of greenhouse gases and resulting warming that is leading to the rapid disappearance of summer sea ice.

“The special rule is a death warrant for the polar bear,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “With its sea-ice habitat rapidly disappearing, the polar bear needs the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.”

Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on sea ice for all their essential needs. That ice is rapidly disappearing, reaching an all-time low in 2007, when the Arctic ice cap shrank by a record 1 million square miles — equivalent to an area six times the size of California — below average, reaching levels not predicted to occur until mid-century. Several leading scientists have now stated that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in the summer by 2012. In response to loss of sea ice, polar bears are already suffering starvation, drowning, and population declines. Leaving the special rule in place will ensure that the primary threat to the polar bear — global warming and associated climate change — is not addressed.

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