"Federal officials have now acknowledged that global warming is
transforming the Arctic, and threatening polar bears with
extinction," said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological
Diversity. "It's not too late for polar bears if we act immediately
to start cutting global warming emissions."
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC), and Greenpeace filed the action against
Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service for failing to respond to the groups' petition to list
polar bears under the law. A federal judge has scheduled a hearing
in that case on March 17.
Just yesterday, the government's National Climatic Data Center
announced that January temperatures in the U.S. were the warmest on
record, beating the average figure by a full 8.5 degrees
Fahrenheit. Two weeks ago, scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute
for Space Studies confirmed that worldwide, 2005 was the hottest
year ever recorded.
Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on
the sea ice for all of their essential needs, including hunting
their prey of ice seals. An enormous body of scientific evidence
shows that the Arctic ice is vanishing much faster than previously
expected. The thick multiyear ice has been shrinking up to 10
percent per decade, and some climate models predict that the Arctic
could be ice-free in summer as early as 2040.
"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
As temperatures rise, researchers say that Arctic sea ice is
forming later, breaking up earlier, and the area covered by it is
shrinking. Dramatic changes have occurred in Alaska, where
scientists with the U.S. Minerals Management Service 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 researchers said that more polar bears likely drowned than
were spotted, and predict increases in such deaths as global
In Western Hudson Bay in Canada, polar bears are forced onto
land for a period of fasting when the sea ice melts in the spring,
and cannot hunt again until the ice freezes up again in the fall.
Because of global warming, the season for bears to hunt on the ice
has already become too short for the bears to build up sufficient
fat stores for optimum health and reproduction. As a result, this
population of polar bears has declined approximately 14 percent in
10 years, from 1,100 in 1995 to fewer than 950 in 2004.
Listing under the United States Endangered Species Act --
America's safety net for plants and animals on the brink of
extinction -- will provide broad protection to polar bears,
including a requirement that United States federal agencies ensure
that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the United
States government will not "jeopardize the continued existence" of
polar bears, or adversely modify their critical habitat.
"Listing under the Endangered Species Act will provide important
protections for the bears, including a requirement that federal
agencies responsible for large greenhouse gas emissions consider
their impacts on polar bears and their Arctic habitat," said Kert
Davies of Greenpeace. "The bears are just the beginning of a much
bigger problem. By protecting them now, we will 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, power plants, and other
Today's positive finding on the Petition to list polar bears
under the Endangered Species Act begins a comment period and full
"status review" of the species, following which the federal
government will decide weather to propose listing the polar bear as
a threatened species.
Other contacts: Jane Kochersperger, (202) 319-2493; (202) 415-5477 cell
VVPR info: More information regarding polar bears, global warming, and United States climate policy is available online at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/species/polarbear/index.html, http://www.nrdc.org/, and http://www.greenpeaceusa.org.
Notes: The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with over 18,000 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.