Center for Biological Diversity
Photo and Video Available
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 29, 2006
Judgment Day Set for Polar Bears
San Francisco, Calif. – Conservation groups today announced they have reached a settlement in a lawsuit to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. Under the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must complete its “12-month” finding on whether polar bears should be listed under the Endangered Species Act by December 27, 2006.
“The scientific community is issuing sharp warnings to address global warming now, or suffer consequences that include the loss of Arctic sea ice and species such as the polar bear,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to immediately protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act and immediately cut greenhouse gas pollution.”
Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on sea ice for all of their essential needs, including hunting their prey of ice seals. The rapid warming of the Arctic and melting of the sea ice poses an overwhelming threat to polar bears, which could become the first mammal to lose 100 percent of its habitat due to global warming.
“These animals need protection now,” said Andrew Wetzler of NRDC. “Everything in their lives depends on the ice sheet, and that ice sheet is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. If current pollution levels continue we simply will not recognize the Arctic anymore.”
Recent findings have painted a dire picture for the polar bear. Reduced food availability due to global warming has resulted in polar bear cannibalism off the north coast of Alaska and Canada. Scientists with the U.S. Minerals Management Service also documented the drowning of at least four polar bears in September 2004, when the sea ice retreated a record 160 miles off the state’s northern coast. The loss of sea ice caused the polar bear population in Western Hudson Bay to decline from approximately 1,200 bears in 1987, to 1,100 bears in 1995, and then to fewer than 950 bears in 2004. And in April, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that winter sea ice (defined as the area with sea-ice concentrations of 15 percent or greater) has shrunk in the past year by more than 115,000 square miles – an area about the size of the Arizona – reaching a new record low of 5.60 million square miles (14.5 million square kilometers).
Listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to polar bears, including a requirement that U.S. federal agencies ensure that any action they carry out, authorize or fund will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of polar bears or adversely modify their critical habitat.
“We have reached a critical point in our history when we must protect the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act,” said Melanie Duchin of Greenpeace. “The bears are a symbol of what is at risk for us all. By protecting them now, we may be protecting ourselves in the future.”
The United States is the world’s largest emitter of the heat trapping pollution that causes global warming, primarily carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks and power plants. The United States has four percent of the world’s population but produces about one-quarter of its greenhouse gas pollution.
The conservation organizations Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, and Greenpeace sued the Bush administration in December 2005 because the government had ignored a formal petition to protect the polar bear, which the groups filed in February 2005. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed its required initial “90-day” finding in February 2006, found that protection of polar bears “may be warranted,” and commenced a full status review of the species. The results of that review, as well as review of public comments received, will form the basis of the important “12-month finding” now due by December 27. At the 12-month finding stage, the Fish and Wildlife Service must determine whether protection of polar bears “is warranted,” and if so, issue a proposal to protect the species. The proposal would then undergo peer review and public comment before becoming final.
The first public comment period on listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act ended on June 16. Over 200,000 comments were submitted in support of listing the polar bear, including letters from eminent polar bear experts, climate scientists and more than 35 members of Congress.
The settlement announced today will become a final enforceable court order when signed by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White.
More information regarding polar bears, global warming and U.S. climate policy is available online at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/species/polarbear/index.html, http://www.nrdc.org/ and http://www.greenpeaceusa.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 22,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1.2 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Greenpeace is a non-profit corporation with 2.7 million members worldwide that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions for the future.