Endangered Species Act Listing Process for Polar Bears Underway
Polar Bears May Become Extinct Due to Global Warming
|Message on the Wind ©Thomas D. Mangelsen/Imagesofnaturestock.com. Polar bears must wait for the sea ice to re-freeze each fall so they can resume hunting seals. If current levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue, Arctic sea ice will melt and not return.|
On February 16, 2005, the same day that the Kyoto Protocol entered into force without the participation of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific Petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Polar bears are threatened with extinction because global warming is causing rapid environmental change in the Arctic, including the melting of the polar bear’s sea ice habitat.
On December 15, 2005, the Center and our partners NRDC and Greenpeace sued the Bush Administration for ignoring the Petition. In response, on February 9, 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a positive "90-day petition finding" for polar bears, opened a 60-day comment period, and initiated a status review of the species. Because all listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act must be made on the basis of the "best available science," the current rulemaking for polar bears will highlight the severity of the global warming crisis and the fact that we must quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the extinction of polar bears.
The polar bear (Ursus maritimus ), also known as the Great White Bear, Ice Bear, and Nanook, is the largest of the world’s bear species. Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are completely dependent upon the sea ice for survival. Polar bears are the Arctic’s top predator and specialize in hunting ringed seals (Phoca hispida ). (For more on the natural history and biology of polar bears, click here ).
Tragically, this mighty hunter now faces likely extinction by the end of this century because its sea ice habitat is literally melting away due to global warming.
That global warming is occurring and accelerating due to man’s production of “greenhouse gases,” primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy, is no longer subject to credible scientific dispute. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC” ), was quoted in January, 2005 in the British Independent newspaper as stating that the world has "already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere" and that "[w ]e are risking the ability of the human race to survive."
Temperatures are rising far more rapidly in the Arctic than in the rest of the world. As a result, sea ice is rapidly melting away. Even under relatively optimistic future emissions scenarios, some climate models predict that summer sea ice will disappear completely by the end of this century. (For more on global warming and the Arctic, click here ).
Observed Sea Ice in September 1979 Versus Observed Sea Ice in September 2003 Source: ACIA 2004:25.
Polar bears use sea ice for virtually all of their essential behaviors including feeding, mating, travel, and maternity denning. They cannot survive the loss of sea ice habitat that will occur if current levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue. Scientists have already recorded thinner bears, lower female reproductive rates, and reduced juvenile survival in the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population in Canada, which is at the southern edge of the species’ range and the first to suffer impacts from global warming.
Mother's Pride ©Thomas D. Mangelsen/Imagesofnaturestock.com. Female polar bears are exemplary mothers, and care for their young for over two years.
The Center’s Campaign to Protect Polar Bears
Protection under the Endangered Species Act, as requested in the Center’s Petition will provide concrete protection to polar bears, including requiring a heightened level of environmental review before oil and gas development can proceed in polar bear habitat in the United States Arctic. Endangered Species Act listing will also help highlight the plight of the polar bear and the role of fossil fuel consumption in its demise.
It is not too late to prevent the disappearance of polar bears. The United States produces fully 24% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Rational energy, transportation, and development policies would drastically curb emissions, improve quality of life, and give polar bears back their future. The Center is working for such policies at the local, state, and federal level. (For more on climate policy and the Kyoto Protocol, click here) (For ways in which you can reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions, click here)
Special thanks to Thomas D. Mangelsen for the generous donation of the use of his award-winning polar bear images. For more information on Thomas D. Mangelsen fine art photography, please visit http://www.imagesofnaturewebstore.com