CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
For Immediate Release July 5, 2005
CONSERVATION GROUPS WITH MEMBERSHIP OF OVER HALF A MILLION PEOPLE JOIN PETITION TO PROTECT THE POLAR BEAR AS A THREATENED SPECIES UNDER THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT IUCN POLAR BEAR SPECIALIST GROUP DESIGNATES POLAR BEAR AS “VULNERABLE SPECIES”: POLAR BEARS FACE “A HIGH RISK OF EXTINCTION IN THE WILD”
Contact: Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity: (760) 366-2232 ext.302 (office) or (951) 961-7972 (mobile) Andrew Wetzler, NRDC: (614) 840-0891 Kert Davies, Greenpeace: (202) 202 319-2455
More Information: Polar Bear Website Green Peace
Today the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Greenpeace, national conservation organizations with a combined membership of over 650,000 people, officially joined a Petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in February of this year requesting that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service list the polar bear species (Ursus maritimus) as a threatened species under the United States Endangered Species Act.
“The polar bear’s sea-ice habitat is literally melting away due to global warming,” said Kassie Siegel, author of the Petition. “Polar bears should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, America’s safety net for wildlife on the brink of extinction. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do everything possible to protect polar bears and their habitat from global warming and other threats.”
Today’s announcement comes as the Bush Administration attempts to block or weaken a climate initiative at this week’s G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. The United States currently produces fully 24% of the world’s greenhouse gases, and the U.S. Government Accounting Office projects that United States greenhouse gas emissions will grow by 43.5% through the year 2025. Last week, over objection from the Bush Administration, the United States Senate recognized for the first time the threat posed by global warming and declared in a resolution that the U.S. needs mandatory limits on the pollution that causes it.
The announcement also follows the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”) Polar Bear Specialist Group’s decision at its June 20-24, 2005 meeting to upgrade the polar bear on the IUCN Red List to the “Vulnerable” category due to global warming and the melting of the polar bear’s sea-ice habitat. “Vulnerable” is one of three designations under the “Threatened” category in the IUCN classification system, which also includes “Critically Endangered” and “Endangered.” A species listed as Vulnerable is facing a “high risk of extinction in the wild.”
“There is virtual unanimity among the international scientific community that global warming is occurring and accelerating due to human production of greenhouse gases, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy,” said Kert Davies, spokesman for Greenpeace. “Americans need solutions which are readily available, such as increased fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and increased incentives for solar energy. If Bush Administration officials continue their obstructionist and backwards policies, they will quickly find themselves completely irrelevant.”
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (“ACIA”) projects that even under conservative estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions, Arctic winter temperatures may rise by up to 18° Fahrenheit (10° C) over the next 100 years. Summer sea ice will likely disappear entirely by the end of this century.
Polar bears, the largest of all bear species worldwide, live only in the Arctic and are found only in areas where sea ice occurs for a significant portion of the year. Polar bears are classified as marine mammals and feed primarily on ringed seals (Phoca hispida), also an ice-dependent species. Habitat loss is the primary cause of species extinction worldwide – and the polar bear’s sea-ice habitat is quickly disappearing.
Arctic sea ice is declining overall due to warming temperatures. Seasonal sea ice is also breaking up earlier each spring, and forming later in the autumn. In Western Hudson Bay in Canada, at the southern edge of the polar bear’s range, the sea-ice season has become approximately three weeks shorter over the past several decades, resulting in a shorter time period for polar bears to hunt ringed seals on the sea ice. Once the ice melts in Western Hudson Bay in springtime, polar bears must fast for up to eight months on land until the sea ice returns. Decreases in polar bear body condition, decreases in survival of polar bear cubs, and a population decline from approximately 1100 in 1995 to approximately 950 in 2004 have already been observed and attributed to global warming in Western Hudson Bay. Similar impacts and population declines are expected in polar bear populations worldwide as global warming accelerates.
The 154 page Petition, which contains a review of the best available scientific information, as well a supplemental letter submitted today, cites global warming as the primary threat to polar bears, in addition to other threats such as oil and gas development in the Arctic, high levels of contaminants such as PCBs in polar bear tissues, and overhunting of some populations in Canada, Greenland, and Russia.
Listing under the United States Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to polar bears, including a requirement that United States federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the United States government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of polar bears, or adversely modify their critical habitat. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service was required to make an initial determination on the Petition within 90 days, but has yet to issue the required determination.
“We urge the Bush Administration to fulfill its responsibility for stewardship of polar bears and the Arctic web of life,” said Andrew Wetzler of NRDC. If this Administration does not move quickly to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act, our organizations and our collective 3.3 million members will hold it accountable.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with over 13,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.
NRDC is a national, non-profit conservation organization with 500,000 members. Through law, science, public education, and advocacy, NRDC works to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals, and the natural system on which all life depends.
Greenpeace, Inc. is a California non-profit corporation with over 156,000 members in the United States that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions for the future.