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U.S. Proposes Listing Polar Bears As Threatened Species

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  • Mike Neuman
    U.S. Proposes Listing Polar Bears As Threatened Species December 31, 2006 U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne has announced the U.S. Fish and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2007
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      U.S. Proposes Listing Polar Bears As Threatened Species
      December 31, 2006

      U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne has announced the U.S.
      Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the polar bear as a
      threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and initiating a
      comprehensive scientific review to assess the current status and
      future of the species.

      The Service will use the next 12 months to gather more information,
      undertake additional analyses, and assess the reliability of relevant
      scientific models before making a final decision whether to list the
      species.

      "Polar bears are one of nature's ultimate survivors, able to live and
      thrive in one of the world's harshest environments," Kempthorne
      said. "But we are concerned the polar bears' habitat may literally be
      melting." "Based on current analysis, there are concerns about the
      effect of receding sea ice on polar bear populations," he said. "I am
      directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological
      Survey to aggressively work with the public and the scientific
      community over the next year to broaden our understanding of what is
      happening with the species. This information will be vital to the
      ultimate decision on whether the species should be listed." Polar
      bears are already protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of
      1972. Under that law, it is generally prohibited to (1) take or (2)
      import marine mammals and their parts or products. The species is
      also protected by international treaties involving countries in the
      bear's range. In early December, Congress passed the United States-
      Russia Polar Bear Conservation and Management Act of 2006,
      implementing a treaty with Russia designed to conserve polar bears
      shared between the two countries. President Bush is expected to sign
      this legislation into law.

      Today's proposal cites the threat to polar bear populations caused by
      receding sea ice, which bears use as a platform to hunt for prey. In
      recommending a proposed listing, the Fish and Wildlife Service used
      scientific models that predict the impact of the loss of ice on bear
      populations over the next few decades.

      Scientific observations have revealed a decline in late summer Arctic
      sea ice to the extent of 7.7 percent per decade and in the perennial
      sea ice area of 9.8 percent per decade since 1978. Observations have
      likewise shown a thinning of the Arctic sea ice of 32 percent from
      the 1960s and 1970s to the 1990s in some local areas.

      There are 19 polar bear populations in the circumpolar Arctic,
      containing an estimated total of 20,000-25,000 bears. The western
      Hudson Bay population of polar bears in Canada has suffered a 22
      percent decline. Alaska populations have not experienced a
      statistically significant decline, but Fish and Wildlife Service
      biologists are concerned that they may face such a decline in the
      future.

      Recent scientific studies of adult polar bears in Canada and in
      Alaska's Southern Beaufort Sea have shown weight loss and reduced cub
      survival. While data are lacking about many populations, the Service
      suspects that polar bears elsewhere are being similarly affected by
      the reduction of sea ice "We have sufficient scientific evidence of a
      threat to the species to warrant proposing it for listing, but we
      still have a lot of work to do to enhance our scientific models and
      analyses before making a final decision," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife
      Service Director Dale Hall.

      The Service extensively analyzed the impact of both onshore and
      offshore oil and gas development on polar bears and determined they
      do not pose a threat to the species.

      The Service likewise examined the impact of subsistence harvest of
      polar bears by Alaska Natives. Such harvest is specifically allowed
      under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and would also be allowed if
      the polar bear is listed under the Endangered Species Act, unless the
      Service finds that the harvest is materially and negatively affecting
      the polar bear. Harvesting polar bears is of great social, cultural
      and economic importance to Native peoples throughout much of the
      Arctic and maintaining a harvest within sustainable limits is one of
      the department's priorities, Kempthorne noted.

      While the proposal to list the species as threatened cites the threat
      of receding sea ice, it does not include a scientific analysis of the
      causes of climate change. That analysis is beyond the scope of the
      Endangered Species Act review process, which focuses on information
      about the polar bear and its habitat conditions, including reduced
      sea ice.

      However, climate change science and issues of causation are discussed
      in other analyses undertaken by the Bush Administration. The
      administration treats climate change very seriously and recognizes
      the role of greenhouse gases in climate change.

      The Service invites the public to submit data, information, and
      comments on the proposed rule. Comments will be accepted on the
      proposed rule for the next 90 days.

      A copy of the proposed rule and other information about the proposal
      is available on the Service's Marine Mammal website located at:
      http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm

      "Our goal ultimately is to combine the best science available with
      the power of working hand-in-hand with states, tribes, foreign
      countries, industry, and other partners to minimize the threats to
      polar bears and conserve this great icon of the Arctic for future
      generations," Kempthorne said.
      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061231100753.htm
      Also see:
      http://environment.about.com/od/biodiversityconservation/a/polar_bears
      .htm
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