Sec. Salazar Leaves Polar Bears Poorly Protected

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Cat Lazaroff, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3270

Sec. Salazar Leaves Polar Bears Poorly Protected

Interior Department refuses chance to overturn damaging Bush-era rule

WASHINGTON - Defenders of Wildlife has learned that the
Department of the Interior plans to announce today that it will let slip a
chance to ensure that threatened polar bears receive all the vital protections
they need under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In March, Congress passed
a bill giving the Interior Department the extraordinary authority to immediately
overturn two Bush-era rules that undermined endangered species protections,
including one that weakened requirements for scientific consultation under the
ESA, and another that limited protections for the
polar bear. The bill gave Interior Secretary Ken Salazar 60 days to withdraw the
rules and immediately reinstate the more protective rules that were in place
before the Bush administration changed them.

Secretary Salazar used
that authority to overturn the damaging consultation regulations on May 4.
However, he has failed to use the authority Congress gave him to restore
protections to the threatened polar bear.

"We're very disappointed
that Secretary Salazar decided not to cut through the red tape and restore
protections for polar bears immediately," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive
vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service. "The polar bear's Arctic sea ice habitat is melting away,
the Arctic seals which polar bears hunt for food are becoming increasingly
scarce, and the cause is clearly global warming. In spite of this, Secretary
Salazar is leaving in place a rule that says activities that cause global
warming and therefore harm polar bears will never be considered violations of
the Endangered Species Act under any circumstances. That made no sense under the
Bush administration and it certainly makes no sense for the Obama
administration."

Defenders of Wildlife has
challenged the polar bear rule in federal court to ensure that the polar bear,
which was listed as "threatened" under the ESA on May 14,
2008, receives the
protection necessary for its conservation, the standard required by the
ESA. With today's decision leaving polar bears with
only limited protection, Defenders will be forced to continue its litigation
challenging the rule.

"It is categorically not
true to say that the Marine Mammal Protection Act provides sufficient
protections for the polar bear, and the Interior Department should know that. We
will do everything we can to ensure that the Obama administration gives the
polar bear the vital protections it needs to survive," said
Clark. "The polar bear is running out of
time."

Background

Polar bears were listed
as threatened under the ESA on May 14,
2008, a move that normally
would have provided the species with protection from activities that harm the
bears themselves or their habitat. However, the Bush administration also issued
a rule under Section 4(d) of the ESA which in essence prevents the law from applying
to a variety of activities that cause global warming, the very heart of the
threat to the polar bear.

While the Bush
administration acknowledged that the polar bear warranted listing under the
ESA primarily due to the rapid melting of
its Arctic sea ice habitat caused by global warming, the 4(d) rule put
greenhouse gas polluters outside the reach of the act.

The 4(d) rule asserts
that, with respect to activities within the polar bear's current range, the
species is already adequately protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
(MMPA) and the new ESA threatened status will not add to that
protection, even though the MMPA provides only limited protection for habitat.
In an attempt to preclude application of the ESA to greenhouse gas polluters such as coal-fired
power plants, the rule also directs that the incidental take prohibitions of the
ESA do not apply to any activities outside the
current range of the polar bear within the
U.S.

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 has published a series of reports predicting that loss of summer sea
ice-vital 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.

Read the 4(d) rule.

Learn more about what Defenders is doing to help polar bears.

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Defenders of Wildlife is a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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