Bush Adminstration Acknowledgs Polar Bears Threatened

January 8, I posted, Is the Bush Administration Stalling on the Polar Bear Question? May 14, one day before a court-ordered deadline in the case brought by environmentalists, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced the government was granting threatened status under the Endangered Species Act, He showed the above slide on the 2007 extent and age of arctic ice based on satellite photos and research of Dr. Ignatius Rigor (website) of Washington University’s Polar Science Center. The white designates multi-year ice –five years and older, which provides many critical habitat functions. The light blue includes seasonal ice that can form and melt in one year, and is used for hunting. The dark blue represents open water.

Compare this with 10 years earlier:
Kempthorne said,

Today’s decision is based on three findings. First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival. Second, the polar bear’s sea ice habitat has dramatically melted in recent decades. Third, computer models suggest sea ice is likely to further recede in the future. Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future—in this case, forty-five years.

This is the first time the Endangered Species Act has been invoked to protect an animal mainly threatened by global warming, but Kempthorne stressed the move will not open the door to policy changes on reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. It will only translate to bans on hunting.

Greenpeace climate expert Kert Davies criticized:

They basically took the teeth out of the law….the notion that there is no way that the government—that US actions on global warming can affect the Arctic is also ridiculous, because the US’s 25 percent of global emissions and the thought that nothing we can do in this country will positively affect the polar bear is outrageous.

Since the ruling makes no provision for habitat protection, only hunting, I’d have to agree that this is a pretty hollow victory. It’s kind of like saying that you can’t shoot the bears, but it’s okay for them to drown or starve. I’d like to know the extent of hunting that was taking place, anyway.

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