The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in San
Francisco, one day after scientists released a study documenting
that polar bears are drowning as a result of record low sea ice
levels off the coast of Alaska. The groups filing the suit include
the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC), and Greenpeace.
On Wednesday, scientists with the U.S. Minerals Management
Service released a report documenting the deaths of four polar
bears found drowned in September 2004, when the sea ice had
retreated a record 160 miles north of the northern coast of Alaska.
The researchers said that more polar bears may have drowned than
had been found.
"Global warming and rising temperatures in the Arctic jeopardize
the polar bear's very existence," said Melanie Duchin, a climate
campaigner with Greenpeace. "Polar bears cannot survive without sea
ice, and these bears could disappear in our lifetime if we don't
The groups first petitioned to have the polar bear listed as
threatened last February. The Endangered Species Act requires that
the Secretary of the Interior respond within 90 days of receiving
such notice, but the Secretary has yet to comply. The Secretary
received another notice 60 days ago, but the groups have received
no response. If today's lawsuit is successful, polar bears could
become the first mammal to be officially declared at risk due to
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 to this majestic animal," said Kassie Siegel
of the Center for Biological Diversity. "To make sure these bears
survive, we need to reduce the global warming pollution that is
melting their habitat."
Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on
the sea ice. A growing body of evidence shows that the Arctic ice
is vanishing much faster than previously expected. The thick
multiyear ice has been shrinking eight to 10 percent per decade,
with some climate models predicting that the Arctic could be
ice-free in summer as early as 2050.
Polar bears in western Hudson Bay are already showing signs of
decline as a result of sea ice breaking up three weeks earlier than
in past decades. As a result, polar bears spend an extra month
onshore fasting before they can return to the ice in the fall in
search of prey. The Hudson Bay population of polar bears has
already dropped approximately 14 percent in 10 years, from 1,100 in
1995 to fewer than 950 in 2004.
"We need to take action now to protect these animals and
preserve their Arctic habitat. We cannot afford to ignore the
threat any longer," said Andrew Wetzler of NRDC.
Global warming is caused by heat-trapping pollution such as
carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks, power plants, and
other sources that accumulate in the atmosphere and prevent the
sun's heat from escaping. The United States is the world's largest
contributor of those emissions.
More information regarding polar bears, global warming, and
United States climate policy is available online at:
http://www.nrdc.org/, and http://www.greenpeaceusa.org.
VVPR info: Jane Kochersperger, Greenpeace, 202/319-2493 or 202/415-5477 (cell)