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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 15, 2006
As Arctic Ice Continues Record Melting,
More than 200,000 Comments Filed in Support of Listing
San Francisco, Calif. – More than 200,000 comments from scientists, legislators and the public have been filed in support of listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, as the public comment period comes to a close this Friday, June 16. Letters received from leading scientists have highlighted the ways in which global warming threatens polar bears with extinction and strongly supported listing under the Endangered Species Act, America’s safety net for plants and animals on the brink of extinction.
“The science is irrefutable: polar bears cannot survive without sea ice and, in all likelihood, summer sea ice will be gone from the north polar basin within the next few decades,” wrote Jack Lentfer, former director of polar bear research for both the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as a former Polar Bear Specialist Group member and Scientific Advisor to the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission.
A letter signed by Dr. David Archer of the University of Chicago and 30 other eminent climate change scientists stated, “As scientists engaged in research on climate change, we are deeply concerned about the polar bear habitat …The best available observations demonstrate that Arctic warming is rapid, persistent, and widespread, that Arctic sea ice is melting and that, absent significant reductions in anthropogenic greenhouse gases, there will be continued warming and further reduction of sea ice …We urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to acknowledge the threat of Arctic warming on the Polar Bear.”
Representative Jay Inslee, D-Wash., lead author of a letter signed by 36 Members of Congress, also urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. "The outpouring of support is proof that these beautiful creatures truly capture our imagination," said Inslee. "I hope that raising awareness of their plight will lead not only to their rescue, but also to the preservation of other species that face potential extinction as a result of global warming."
In the letter, Inslee and other congressional members wrote, “We urge you to consider the newest research and data concerning dangers to polar bear habitat and health. We also call your attention to the lack of regulatory mechanisms that address the root causes of these dangers. We believe that a review of this evidence strongly favors listing the polar bear as a ‘threatened’ species under the [Endangered Species Act].”
Recent scientific findings have painted a dire picture for the polar bear. A new paper in Polar Biology reports three instances of predation and cannibalism by male polar bears off the north coast of Alaska and Canada, including the first recorded incidence of a female polar bear killed in her maternity den with her newborn cubs. The authors hypothesize that this behavior is due to global warming, the longer ice-free season and the resulting decrease in polar bear prey availability and nutritional stress. Last fall, scientists with the U.S. Minerals Management Service documented the drowning of at least four polar bears in September 2004, when the sea ice retreated a record 160 miles off Alaska’s northern coast. Loss of sea ice caused the polar bear population in Western Hudson Bay to decline from approximately 1,200 bears in 1987 to 1,100 bears in 1995 and then to fewer than 950 bears in 2004.
And in April 2006, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center discovered that winter sea ice – defined as the area with sea ice concentrations of 15 percent or greater – shrunk in the past year by more than 115,000 square miles, an area about the size of the Arizona, reaching a new record low of 5.60 million square miles (14.5 million square kilometers).
The conservation organizations Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC and Greenpeace sued the Bush administration in December 2005 because the government had ignored a petition to protect the polar bear, which the organizations filed in February 2005. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed the required initial “90-day” finding in February 2006, concluded that protection of polar bears “may be warranted,” and commenced a full status review of the species. The results of that review, including the public comments received, will form the basis of the important “12-month finding.” At the 12-month finding stage, the Fish and Wildlife Service must determine whether protection of polar bears is “warranted,” and if so, issue a proposal to protect the species. The proposal would then undergo peer review and public comment before becoming final.
Listing under the Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to polar bears, including a requirement that U.S. government agencies ensure that any action they carry out, authorize or fund will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of polar bears or adversely modify their critical habitat.
The United States is the world’s largest emitter of the heat trapping pollution that causes global warming, primarily carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks and power plants.
More information regarding polar bears, global warming and U.S. climate policy is available online at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/species/polarbear/index.html, http://www.nrdc.org, and http://www.greenpeaceusa.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 22,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1.2 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Greenpeace is a non-profit corporation with 2.7 million members worldwide that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions for the future.