Bush Administration Finalizes Rule; Blocks Crucial Polar Bear Protections

For Immediate Release

Defenders of Wildlife
Contact: 

Erin McCallum, (202)772-3217

Bush Administration Finalizes Rule; Blocks Crucial Polar Bear Protections

Rule refuses to tackle global warming implications, ignores science and common sense

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
announced today that it will deny the polar bear the appropriate and necessary
protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“This rule makes a
mockery of the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s most important wildlife
protection law,” said Defenders of Wildlife executive vice president, Jamie
Rappaport Clark. “The polar bear
doesn’t have time for political maneuvers. Its habitat is melting away, its food
is becoming scarce and the science is clear that the cause is global warming -
yet the rule this administration released today affirms that little will be done
to save the species from sure extinction.”

Defenders of Wildlife has
already filed suit in federal court contesting the legality of a previous,
“interim final” version of this rule, and will challenge this new final rule as
well to ensure that the polar bear, which was listed as “threatened” under the
ESA on May 14,
2008 receives the full
protections that other species receive under the ESA.

“We are forced to
challenge this rule because it denies vital protections to the polar bear that
it needs to survive,” said
Clark.

Listing polar bears as
threatened should help protect polar bear habitat from
threats such as oil and gas development, which the Bush administration is
aggressively pursuing in the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska and has even proposed in the pristine Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge, which provides the primary land denning habitat for
the species. Instead, the administration has made it clear with its 4(d) rule
that the ESA will not provide any additional protections from
these and other harmful activities than those that already exist under the
Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and will provide no protection whatsoever
against emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing the rise in global
temperatures that directly threaten the polar bear.

Specifically, the 4(d)
rule eliminates some of the necessary protections for the polar bear and its
habitat under the ESA, based on the incorrect assertion that the polar
bear is already adequately protected under other laws, such as the MMPA.
Furthermore, the rule states that the ESA’s protections against “incidental take” – death
or harm to polar bears caused by human activities such as oil and gas
development – do not apply at all if those activities occur outside of
Alaska.

“It’s really not
surprising that the Bush administration, with its longstanding resistance to
taking any responsible action against global warming, would think of a stunt
like this in its waning days in office” said Clark. “To finally admit that the
science compels the listing of the polar bear as threatened due to global
warming, but then deny it the protections the Endangered Species Act should
provide is nothing other than irresponsible and shameful."

History:

The polar bear is the
largest of the world’s bear species and is distributed among nineteen Arctic
subpopulations – two of which, the Chukchi and the Southern Beaufort Sea populations, are located within the
United
States.

Polar bears are
threatened with extinction from global warming, which is melting the Arctic sea
ice where polar bears hunt for ringed and bearded seals, their primary food
source.

The U.S. Geological
Survey published a series of reports predicting that loss of summer sea
ice—crucial habitat for polar bears—could lead to the demise of two-thirds of
the world’s polar bears by mid-century, including all of
Alaska’s polar bears.

View final 4(d) rule here

Learn more about Defenders' work on polar bears.

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