Climate Scientists, Biologists and Groups Representing Millions of Americans Ask Obama to Follow Science in Determining Polar Bears’ Fate

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302 or ksiegel@biologicaldiversity.org

Climate Scientists, Biologists and Groups Representing Millions of Americans Ask Obama to Follow Science in Determining Polar Bears’ Fate

WASHINGTON - More than 150 biologists
and climate scientists today called on the Obama administration to follow the
best available science in deciding the level of protection polar bears will get
under the Endangered Species Act. The letters were submitted to the Department
of the Interior as the agency faces a court-imposed deadline next week on
whether polar bears, which are acutely imperiled by global warming, should
continue to be classified merely as "threatened" or given maximum protection as
"endangered." At the same time, more than 140 public-interest groups
representing millions of Americans also sent a letter to Interior today urging
that polar bears be protected as an endangered
species.

"There's broad
consensus that rapid climate change in the Arctic is hurting polar bears right
now and the U.S. government needs to take aggressive action to pull this
majestic species back from the brink of extinction," said Kassie Siegel,
director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute and
author of the petition that led to Endangered Species Act listing for the bear
in 2008. "It doesn't do polar bears, or any of the rest of us, any good to treat
climate change as a problem to be solved by future generations - not when the
devastating effects are already being felt right
now."

Many polar bear
populations are already declining. The bears' less-protective "threatened"
designation allowed the Bush administration to exempt the primary threat facing
the bear, namely greenhouse gas pollution, from important regulatory programs
under the Act. The Center and other groups have argued in federal court that the
bears need the most protection possible to avoid the worst effects of climate
change. 

The letter from climate scientists discusses the rapid and
accelerating melting of Arctic sea ice and urges Interior to "acknowledge that
anthropogenic climate change poses not just a distant, future threat to Arctic
sea ice, but a current threat to this important habitat of the polar bear and
other ice-dependent species."

"Many climate
scientists, like myself, study climate change by poring over large data sets and
running climate model simulations. Global warming can at times seem very
distant, almost an abstract concept," said Dr. Michael E. Mann, professor of
meteorology at Penn State University. "When I ventured up to Hudson
Bay in mid-November and saw the undernourished polar bears with their cubs,
sitting around at the shore of the Hudson
Bay, waiting for the then month-overdue sea ice to arrive so they
could begin hunting for food, it suddenly came home for me. For the first time
in my life, I actually saw climate change unfolding before my eyes. It was a
sobering moment, and one I'll never forget."

In a second letter,
more than 140 biologists urge the Obama government to reverse an argument it has
advanced in the litigation - that extinction must be "imminent" before a species
may be listed as endangered. The biologists' letter states that "we believe it is wrong
to argue that a species may never be listed as ‘endangered,' absent a showing
that extinction is imminent," and that the narrow definition advanced by
Interior in the litigation "is contrary to language of the Endangered Species
Act, inconsistent with the current list of threatened and endangered species,
and will limit protections for species known to be at risk of
extinction."

In a third letter, a broad alliance of more than 140 faith,
human-rights, social justice and environmental groups called on Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar today to "fully acknowledge the reality and science of
climate change in the Arctic, and grant polar bears full protection as an
‘endangered' species." An additional letter, sent from the heads of the nation's
largest environmental groups, was sent to Salazar last
week. 

Interior has until
Dec. 23 to respond to a November court ruling by U.S. District Judge Emmet
Sullivan that ordered the Department of the Interior to reexamine its 2008
decision to list the polar bear as "threatened" rather than
"endangered." Secretary Salazar has so far defended the Bush-era
"threatened" designation, claiming that threats to the species are only of
concern in the future - notwithstanding the fact that polar bears are already
drowning and starving as a
result of sea-ice loss, with many populations declining. Scientists predict that
if greenhouse gas trends continue, two-thirds of the world's polar bears,
including all the bears in Alaska, will probably be gone in 40 years and
possibly well before then.

"Global warming is not
just a future threat for the polar bear or for the rest of us. It's here now,"
said Siegel. "The Obama government needs to acknowledge the reality that global
warming has arrived and grant the polar bear the ‘endangered' status it
desperately needs."  

 

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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