For Immediate Release, January 9, 2008

Contact: Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 x 302, (951) 961-7972;
Serena Ingre, NRDC, (703) 296-0702, (202) 289-2378;
Jane Kochersperger, Greenpeace, (202) 680-3798;

Environmental Groups Take Legal Action to
Enforce Endangered Species Act

Bush Administration Fails to Meet Listing Deadline for Polar Bear

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Greenpeace initiated legal action against the Bush administration today by submitting a formal notice of intent to sue the administration for missing the deadline to decide whether or not polar bears will be listed under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming. Today’s notice of intent to sue must be sent prior to filing a lawsuit in federal court.

“Endangered Species Act listing decisions must be based only on science, and the scientists have finished their work on the polar bear listing. There is no reason for political appointees to interfere,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the 2005 petition. “Time and again, delays like this one have been used by bureaucrats in Washington to illegally overrule and rewrite the conclusions of agency scientists. This delay is illegal and unjustified.”

The Endangered Species Act requires a listing process of no longer than two years, but in this case almost three years have passed since the scientific petition was submitted in February 2005, calling on the government to list the polar bear. The groups first sued the Bush administration in December 2005, when it missed its first deadline. Responding to the suit in February 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that protection of polar bears “may be warranted,” and commenced a full status review of the species. On January 9, 2007, the Service published its proposal to list the species as “threatened” and had one year to make a final listing decision. The legal deadline for listing was today.

“At the same time the administration is illegally delaying a decision on the polar bear listing, it is also racing to sell some of the polar bear’s most important habitat in the Chukchi Sea for oil and gas development,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Endangered Species Project at NRDC. “These oil and gas sales must be placed on hold at least until the polar bear listing is finalized.”

Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are dependent on sea ice for all their essential needs. Their future in a rapidly warming Arctic is dim. In September 2007, scientists reported that the Arctic cap had lost 1 million square miles — an area six times the size of California — shattering records from the past several decades and beating predictions of ice loss that were not expected until mid-century. The U.S. Geological Service also predicted that two-thirds of the world's polar bear population would likely be extinct by 2050, including all polar bears within the United States. In an article published yesterday, leading sea ice researchers predict that the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in the summer by 2030.

Shrinking sea ice also drastically restricts polar bears' ability to hunt their main prey, ice seals. In the spring of 2006, scientists located the bodies of several bears that had starved to death. Reduced food availability due to global warming has also caused polar bears to resort to cannibalism off the north coast of Alaska and Canada.

“The science confirms that the polar bear is endangered, but the Bush administration continues to downplay the danger of global warming and delay any action to address the issue,” said Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace USA. “We took this administration to court over two years ago to protect the polar bear, and we will continue this fight until they get it right.”

To date, the government has received more than 670,000 comments in support of protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, including letters from eminent polar bear experts, climate scientists, and more than 60 members of Congress. This is a record number of public comments in support of an Endangered Species Act listing.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organization with 2.7 million members worldwide that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions for the future.

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