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For Immediate Release, May 5, 2009

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Four Days to Save the Polar Bear:
More Than 94,000 Petitions Delivered Urging Secretary Salazar to
Revoke Bush Rule That Undermines Polar Bear Protection  

WASHINGTON, D.C.— In a final push, Center for Biological Diversity Senior Counsel Bill Snape delivered more than 94,000 petitions to Interior Secretary Salazar, urging him to rescind a “special rule” created by the Bush administration that sharply limits protections for the threatened polar bear. Snape also delivered more than 30 editorials and letters to the editor from around the country similarly asking the secretary to rescind the rule.

“Congress and the American people have made clear that they want Secretary Salazar to protect the polar bear,” said Snape. “The polar bear is severely threatened by loss of sea ice to climate change and needs the full protections of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”

Congress passed legislation on March 10 giving Secretary Salazar power until May 9 to rescind 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 This latter rule was rescinded by the secretary last week, but he did not rescind the polar bear special rule or give any indication of whether he was inclined to do so.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 Snape. “It makes no sense to determine, on one hand, that the polar bear is threatened, and then on the other hand to deny it that protection.”

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 will not be addressed.

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