Polar Bears Left Unprotected

In the latest in a series of parting shots at our imperiled wildlife, officials in the Bush/Cheney Administration today announced that they will deny America’s vanishing polar bears desperately needed protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Polar bears are already drowning and starving to death as the sea ice they need to survive disappears. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey say that polar bears could disappear from Alaska within the next 50 years.

The decision by the outgoing Bush/Cheney Administration effectively limits new protections for polar bears from harmful oil and gas drilling in their Alaska home. It also expressly prohibits using the Endangered Species Act to limit greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet and driving polar bears to extinction in America.

Defenders of Wildlife is committed to protecting these Arctic ice kings and the habitat they need to survive, but we’re going to need your help to do it.

Defenders of Wildlife has already filed suit in federal court contesting the legality of a previous, “interim final” version of the Bush/Cheney polar bear rule, and will also challenge this new final rule to ensure that the polar bear, which was listed as “threatened” under the ESA on May 14, 2008, receives the full protections that other species receive under the ESA.

We’re fighting attempts to industrialize vital habitat for threatened polar bears with harmful oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Chukchi Sea. And we’re working to prevent trophy hunting of Canadian polar bears by wealthy U.S. trophy hunters.

--Defenders of Wildlife

And a different spin from the USFWS

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced today that the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a Special Rule under the Endangered
Species Act (ESA) providing for the conservation of the polar bear. While
implementing important protections provided by the ESA, the special rule,
in most instances, adopts existing conservation requirements for the polar
bear under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The Service protected the polar bear as a threatened species under the ESA
on May 15, 2008.

“When I announced the protection of the polar bear under the Endangered
Species Act earlier this year, I outlined the need to continue to allow
activities permissible under the stricter standards imposed by the Marine
Mammal Protection Act,” said Kempthorne. “This rule will protect polar bear
populations, while ensuring the safety of communities living in close
contact with the bears and allowing for continued environmentally sound
development of our natural resources in the arctic region.”

The special rule, issued under Section 4(d) of the ESA, adopts the
conservation regulatory requirements of the MMPA and CITES for the polar
bear in most instances; provides that incidental take of polar bears
resulting from activities outside the bear’s current range is not
prohibited under the ESA; clarifies that the Special Rule does not alter
the Section 7 consultation requirements of the ESA; and applies the
standard ESA protections for threatened species when an activity is not
covered by an MMPA or CITES authorization or exemption. Further, this
special rule does not affect any existing requirements under the MMPA,
including incidental take restrictions, or those of CITES.

The 4(d) special rule does not affect the continued subsistence harvest or
the production and sale of polar bear handicrafts by Alaska Natives. Those
activities are already exempted under the ESA and the MMPA. The rule allows
the continued noncommercial export of Native handicrafts and cultural
exchange of items made from polar bear parts that would otherwise require a
permit as a result of the polar bear listing under the ESA.

Onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration, development, and production
activities in Alaska have been effectively governed for decades by the more
stringent MMPA provisions. Under the 4(d) rule, the Department of the
Interior will continue to primarily rely on the more stringent provisions
of the MMPA to manage that activity. However, the overlay of provisions of
the ESA, such as the consultation requirements of section 7 of the ESA will
still apply.

The final special rule maintains most of the benefits of the ESA, while
streamlining the process by determining that any activity either authorized
or exempted under the MMPA or CITES would also be authorized under the ESA.
This is because for the most part the MMPA and CITES already provide
comparable or stricter protection for polar bears. Under this final
special rule, if an activity is authorized or exempted under the MMPA or
CITES, the activity will be allowed to proceed without additional
authorization under the ESA. However, express authorization under the ESA
will be required if the activity is not authorized or exempted under the
MMPA or CITES and would affect the polar bear or its critical habitat, when
such critical habitat is designated.

Section 7 of the ESA requires federal agencies to ensure that the
activities they authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to jeopardize
the continued existence of a listed species or to destroy or adversely
modify its critical habitat. If a federal action may affect a listed
species or its critical habitat, the permitting or action agency must enter
into consultation with the Service. The special rule does not remove or
alter in any way the consultation requirements under section 7 of the ESA.

Based on the extensive analysis associated with the polar bear listing rule
it has been determined that activities and federal actions outside Alaska
do not currently show a causal connection impacting individual polar bears.
Therefore, no consultation is warranted at this time for any such
activities and actions. This provision ensures that the ESA is not used
inappropriately to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“This special rule will ensure that this icon of the arctic retains
important protections as we work with the State of Alaska and other nations
within the polar bear’s range to develop and implement conservation
measures. But as President Bush and I have said before, the ESA is not the
right tool to set U.S. climate change policy,” said Kempthorne. The rule,
as delivered to the Federal Register, can be viewed at:
http://alaska.fws.gov/pdf/pb4d.pdf.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to
conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for
the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and
trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific
excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated
professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our
work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.