Sarah and the Polar Bear

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
- George Orwell, Animal Farm

that we've all gotten over our giddiness at the excitement of a former
almost-beauty queen, mayor and short-term governor as John McCain's
running mate we should put to rest any thought that this was nothing
more than a spur of the moment decision by John McCain. He only
selected Sarah Palin after careful consideration of all the possible
candidates for the post.
There are lots of things in her background that render her a highly
qualified candidate. One that has not been extensively commented upon
is her finding common cause with Canada in a fight with the United

what might be perceived a disloyal act coming from a Republican, Sarah
took Canada's side with respect to the status of the polar bear as an
endangered species. Neither Sarah nor Canada wants the animal's
continued existence to interfere with life as we have grown accustomed
to it. A Canadian scientific panel released an April
review of the polar bear's status that said the bear population was a
matter of "special concern" but not a population "endangered or
threatened with extinction." This finding directly contradicted last
year's U.S. Geological Survey prediction that "two thirds of the
world's polar bears could be gone by mid-century if predictions
of melting sea ice in the Arctic hold true." It also put Canada in
direct conflict with the Bush administration's decision in May 2008 to
add the polar bear to the endangered species list. It was that decision
that was promptly attacked by Sarah Palin. Within days after the ruling
was announced, Alaska began a lawsuit demanding that the decision be
reversed claiming that the climate models predicting the loss of sea
ice were unreliable, a position that is reinforced by Sarah's belief
that global warming, if it exists at all, has nothing to do with human

Explaining the reasons she opposed listing the
polar bears as an endangered species, Sarah said that state wildlife
officials had "found no reason to list the bears as threatened under
the Endangered Species
Act" even though three marine mammal biologists in the Alaska
Department of Fish and Game agreed with the studies the Federal
government relied on in declaring the polar bear endangered. In
addition to opposing the rule because of her flimsy understanding of
science, Sensible Sarah pointed out that the rule would make drilling
for oil and gas more difficult.

Sarah's approach put herself
and her state squarely at odds with the Bush administration that had
promulgated the new rule in May. Dirk Kempthorne, the U.S. Interior
Secretary, said his decision to add the polar bear to the endangered
species list was based on three findings: "First, sea ice is vital to
polar bear survival; second, the polar bear's habitat has dramatically
melted; third, sea ice is likely to further recede in the future."
Those comments were remarkably close to the beliefs expressed by
scientists, an alignment almost unheard of in the Bush administration.
It wouldn't last.

When the Bush administration discovered
that it had come out on the side of science in connection with a
sensitive subject, it quickly retreated thus lining itself up with
Sarah. In August it was announced that a regulatory overhaul of the
Endangered Species Act was proposed. Science would once again" be sent to the back of the bus. Instead of having independent scientific reviews
to determine whether protected species would "be imperiled by agency
projects" federal agencies comprising non-scientists would begin making
those determinations, a conclusion reminiscent of the EPA's decision to
take issues away from scientists and place them in the hands of non-scientists.
Dick Kempthorne, who so eloquently defended the May ruling, said the

new rules were simply an attempt to "provide clarity and certainty to
the consultation process under the Endangered Species Act." Not
everyone sees it that way.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West
Virginia, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said the
rule gives "federal agencies an unacceptable degree of discretion to
decide whether or not to comply with the Endangered Species Act." Bob
Irvin who is senior vice president of conservation programs at
Defenders of Wildlife observes that most agencies do not have wildlife
biologists on staff and, therefore, have no way to make qualified
judgments on issues affecting wildlife. Dale Hall, director of the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Serve disagrees and offers reassurance that all will
be right with the endangered species. He says individual agencies will
have to take responsibility if their projects do harm a protected
species. "This really says to the agencies, 'This law belongs to all of
us. You're responsible to defend it'" he explained.
Those words are comforting. If the agencies err because of lack of
scientific input they will be responsible for the consequences. The
consequences will be extinction or reduction of the species. The
agencies will almost certainly feel really bad about that.

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