At a hearing on Capitol Hill, the National Wildlife Federation urged immediate action to protect America's polar bears from the impacts of climate change by listing polar bears under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Facing a court-imposed deadline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last year proposed to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the ESA. FWS was required by the ESA to issue a final listing decision twelve months thereafter. FWS missed this deadline nearly three months ago despite the imminent dangers to polar bears, as demonstrated by unprecedented melting of Arctic ice in 2007.
The delay in the listing decision has raised suspicions that the Bush Administration was seeking to avoid scrutiny of oil and gas leases in polar bear habitat under the Endangered Species Act when it proceeded to sell oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea on 6 February 2008. The Chukchi Sea off of Alaska's northern coast and historically frozen much of the year, is used by polar bears.
'The Endangered Species Act clearly states that listing decisions must be made based on the best available scientific data, not on the political or economic consequences of the listing,' said Dr Doug Inkley, a senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation who testified before today's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing. 'The science clearly shows the polar bear's future is on thin ice. The legal protections provided under the Endangered Species Act would be a first step towards minimising the impacts of global warming and other threats on the polar bear.'
'Whether it's Alaska's polar bears, Minnesota's moose or the Pacific Northwest's salmon, America's iconic species are seeing their habitats changed by global warming,' said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. 'Congress needs to enact legislation now that cuts our national greenhouse gas emissions by two percent annually while also providing dedicating funding to protect and restore America's natural resources in the face of a rapidly changing climate.'