Polar Bear Listed as a "Threatened Species" by the US Department of the Interior

Wed, 2008-05-14 12:01Emily Murgatroyd
Emily Murgatroyd's picture

Polar Bear Listed as a "Threatened Species" by the US Department of the Interior

UPDATE 1: Sierra Club just released this statement and this to say on their blog.

UPDATE 2: Joe Romm at Climate Progress on the issue.

UPDATE 3: And Michelle (predictable as always) Malkin blames the decision on Enviro Nit-wits. She really needs new talking points.

UPDATE 4: From the CBD, NRDC and Greenpeace USA the ones who took on the polar bear case.

The US Department of the Interior has just announced that is has listed the Polar Bear as a “Threatened Species” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Here's a copy of the news release, analysis to follow shortly on what this means for oil exploration in Alaska:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced that he is accepting the recommendation of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species.

In making the announcement, Kempthorne said, “I am also announcing that this listing decision will be accompanied by administrative guidance and a rule that defines the scope of impact my decision will have, in order to protect the polar bear while limiting the unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States.”

Kempthorne further stated, “While the legal standards under the ESA compel me to list the polar bear as threatened, I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting. Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective. That is why I am taking administrative and regulatory action to make certain the ESA isn’t abused to make global warming policies.”

In January 2007, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the polar bear as threatened throughout its range based on receding sea ice. At that time, Secretary Kempthorne directed the Fish and Wildlife Service and the USGS to aggressively work with the public and the scientific community to broaden understanding of what is happening with the species. In September 2007, the USGS delivered to the Fish and Wildlife Service nine studies related to the future condition of the polar bear and its habitat.

Declines in Sea Ice Documented

Kempthorne illustrated the listing decision with charts depicting satellite images of the differences in sea ice from the fall of 1979 to the fall of 2007. (Studies and models at http://www.doi.gov/issues/polar_bears.html). Last year, Arctic sea ice fell to the lowest level ever recorded by satellite, 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. The amount of sea ice loss in years 2002-2007 exceeded all previous record lows.

In developing the nine studies it delivered to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS relied upon 10 peer-reviewed climate models, all of which project a decline in Arctic sea ice in the future. In particular, the models project declines in September sea ice of more than 30 percent by the middle of the 21st century. Four of the 10 models project declines in September sea ice in excess of 80 percent by the mid -21st century. Seven of the 10 models show a 97 percent loss in September sea ice by the end of the 21st century.

Based on actual observations of trends in sea ice over the past three decades, these models may actually understate the extent and change rate of projected sea ice loss.

Under the ESA, five factors determine whether a species is to be listed. One of those factors is whether there is present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat.

According to the ESA, a species is listed as “threatened” when it is at risk of becoming “endangered” within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. In contrast, a species is “endangered” when it is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall recommended the listing decision. U.S. Geological Survey Director Mark Myers concurs with the scientific findings that support the decision.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drew upon biological information on the bear, careful consideration of whether the bear can adapt to new habitat conditions, over 30 years of actual sea ice observations, and dozens of studies and models on sea ice.

4(d) Rule and Marine Mammal Protection Act

In making the decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, Kempthorne also announced he was using the authority provided in Section 4(d) of the ESA to develop a rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards imposed by the marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the Endangered Species Act with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.

The conservation measures provide that the production, interstate sale, and export of native handicrafts by Alaska natives may continue and that the subsistence harvest of polar bears is not affected.

ESA Not Intended to Regulate Global Climate Change

In making the announcement today, Secretary Kempthorne reiterated President Bush’s statement last month that the ESA was never intended to regulate global climate change. “Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears. But it should not open the door to use of the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources,” said Kempthorne. “That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the ESA law. The ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy.”

Last month President Bush said, “The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate change.”
He said, “There is a right way and wrong way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The American people deserve an honest assessment of the costs, benefits and feasibility of any proposed solution. Discussions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges but should be debated openly and made by the elected representatives of the people they affect.” Kempthorne said, “This Administration has taken real action to deal with the challenges of climate change.”

Our incentives for power production from wind and solar energy have helped to more than quadruple its use. The President explained we have worked with Congress to make available more than $40 billion in loan guarantees to support investments that will avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants. In remarks on April 16, the President said that the Administration and the private sector plan to dedicate nearly a billion dollars to clean coal research and development.

Memorandum of Understanding with Canada
Kempthorne acknowledged Canada has not listed polar bears as threatened even though they have two-thirds of the world’s population of the species. “Last week, I went to Canada and explored this issue. The Canadian law is different from U.S. law with respect to endangered species, both in its criteria for listing and administrative process for making listing determinations.”

While in Canada, Kempthorne signed a Memorandum of Understanding with his Canadian counterpart, John Baird, the minister of environment, for the conservation and management of polar bear populations shared by the U.S. and Canada.

Next Steps
To make sure the ESA is not misused to regulate global climate change, Kempthorne promised the following actions:

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a 4(d) rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the ESA with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.
  • Director Hall will issue guidance to staff that the best scientific data available today cannot make a causal connection between harm to listed species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, or resource development project or government action.
  • The Department will issue a Solicitor’s Opinion further clarifying these points.
  • The Department will propose common sense modifications to the existing ESA regulatory language to prevent abuse of this listing to erect a back-door climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability.

Additionally, the Department will continue to:

  • monitor polar bear populations and trends,
  • study polar bear feeding ecology,
  • work cooperatively with the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and the North Slope Borough for co-management of the polar bears in Alaska,
  • provide technical assistance to the participants of the 1988 North Slope Borough Inuvialuit Game Council Agreement for the conservation of polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea region and monitor the effects of oil and gas operations in the Beaufort Sea region.

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Previous Comments

to the press release by the groups that actually took the case? They were CBD, NRDC and Greenpeace. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/polar-bear-listing-falls-short

More fanciful projections of doom from seriously flawed computer models driving policy.
When will sanity ever return?
Polar bear Populations have increased steadily for more than forty years now.
Just more proof that AGW is a political farce and has nothing at all to do with science.

There are more bears because they have not been culled, hunted, harvested or otherwise exterminated like they were in previous decades. That is a simple fact, easily discovered via a quick search. Yet, you present it as if it somehow challenges GW. What is your agenda?

http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/ask-the-experts/population/ 

Gary, not only do you not have a leg to stand on in terms of science, but you also are morally bankrupt. With the extinction or large reductions in large predators, the rest of the food chain comes tumbling down. In time, with few large predators around, even us humans will be threatened.

Time to man up, Gary, and face the truth and acquire some semblance of moral judgment.

Asked for the link from them, never got it.Thanks for passing it along.

Thanks

This is not any sort of revelation: Polar bears declared a threatened species , but it does raise the question: Why do we care? By some estimates, 90% of all species that once existed are now extinct and new species are always taking their place. For the species that’s going to become extinct, for whatever reason, extinction is the end of it. However, for the species that remain, is the extinction of another species good or bad? When Europeans first colonized North America, there was an estimated five (5) billion Passenger Pigeons alive and well in North America. In 1914, they were extinct. Passenger Pigeons didn’t live in little groups, but huge flocks that required extraordinary quantities of hardwood forests for them to feed, breed and survive. Deforestation to build homes, create farmland and over hunting for cheap food decimated their population. The westward drive to grow the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s was incompatible with the needs of the Passenger Pigeon and they literally could not survive in the new North America being carved out by the U.S. economy. The interesting thing about the Passenger Pigeon was the impact its extinction had on another species—man. That impact was essentially none. Man continued to find ways to feed himself through agriculture and other technologies and the United States and its citizens continued to prosper from the early 20th century till today. Whether or not Polar Bears become extinct because of Global Climate Change or other reasons, we need to address the larger question of: Do we care and why? One of the ways a nation, its citizens and the global community can answer that question is addressed by John A. Warden III in Thinking Strategically About Global Climate Change. He asks some interesting biodiversity questions in his post to include How Many Species Is the Right Number and Which Ones?

What immediately springs to mind is that if one of the predators that keep seal populations in check is taken out of the chain, there will be a rise in seal population. This will put an added strain on the already stressed out populations of cod etc. Fish is one of the staple foods in many areas where population is still rising = greater demand, shrinking stocks = higher prices etc etc etc

We have too many people these days to mess around with this sort of thing. Your example of the passenger pigeon is not a very good parallel. The tolerances for species loss at the end of the 19th century (when the population was only about 1/4 what it is now) was much greater. We don’t have the luxury of that much “wiggle-room” any more.

Fern Mackenzie

the poster known as ‘Sun Tzu’ is spamming several blogs with this identical post.

Thanks for pointing out that predators are the keystone species in any ecosystem, not the prey species.

Wildlife Biology 101.

I think you will find that these polar bears are computer generated.
All the real polar bears died out over a thousand years ago, the last time the climate warmed up. (or was it the time before that?)
A few may have survived the MWP but surely they were extinguished during the 1930 when temperatures were warmer than now.

How much did the sea ice retreat during the 1930s?

Fern Mackenzie

I think he means the U.S. polar bears, inasmuch as he’s referring to the U.S. 1930s temperature.

Yeh, I remember that the awful heat of the mid 1930’s came to a screeching halt at the 49th parallel.

Re polar ice in the 1930’s:

Even the oldest Inuit alive today wouldn’t remember much about that. Ice reconnaissance flights didn’t get going until 1947 and, even then, were pretty sporadic. All we know with certainty is that, in the early 1940’s the northwest passage was sufficiently open that the little schooner St. Roch was able to navigate both ways!

Polar ice cover this spring is the most extensive in several years. The melt is starting now. Any bold predictions on what the situation will look like this fall when it starts to freeze again? Fire up those omniscient computers.

circuitous southern NW passage route. There is no evidence showing if the much more direct northern route was open in the 1930s as it was in 2007, or not, because there is no evidence at all. At least the oldest Inuit alive today have oral history, which is more than you’ve got.

Convenient to leave that out.

“…Convenient to leave that out.”

WTF is that supposed to mean. There was nothing argumentive in my post but, you chose to take it that way.

It would be interesting to know where the Inuit “oral history” of the high Arctic would come from since, until they were planted on Cornwallis and southern Ellesmere Islands in the 1950’s, there were no Inuit there. I can attest to that, since I worked up there for the DOT 1950-52. (By the way there was then, as always, lots of open water which the RCAF plotted for the guidance of shipping. In the summer of 1951, the U.S.S. Eastwind, with that assitance, was able to reach Eureka Sound without breaking any ice.

little one.

Exusian:

So, your own words expose you (as I rather supected from some of your previous posts) as a mere shit disturber with no interest in discussion, who takes pleasure in being a smart ass in the comfy anonimity of the internet. Probably in your early twenties, with enough smattering of undergraduate education to allow you to pretend to know something about climate, Arctic ice, Inuit or anything else about which you are essentially ignorant.

clairvoyant as well as superior.

It certainly knows enough about disturbing shit to teach us all a thing or two.

People love to complain about computer models, but they are generally people who don’t understand that any concept of how things work is a model. Computer models are good because the inputs are explicit and variance can be incorporated into outputs via simulation. But you don’t need omniscient computers to see that Arctic sea ice will likely be at a very low level again this year:
http://tinyurl.com/5td3ou
It’s well below the 1979-2000 average and pretty close to the 2007 level (which ended up having the lowest fall extent of any of those years, by far). How will you make your prediction of how low it will go? You can compare your prediction to people who use various computer models and see whose prediction is more robust.

= How much did the sea ice retreat during the 1930s? =

A lot. Possibly more then at present.

And possibly not.

In other words, you have no idea.

Anecdotal evidence suggests I am closer to being correct Exusian and you likely being wrong.

What a surprise, Paul S/G is wrong again and can’t produce any evidence to back up his (wrong) claims.

Here are some facts on ice extent in the Arctic over the past hundred or so years. Where is this melting you speak of around 1930?

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/seasonal.extent.1900-2007.jpg

It doesn’t exist except in your denier mind set.

Try discussing FACTS not lies and distortions.

Ian Forrester

LOL with that graph Ian.

If it was accurate, there is no way Henry Larsen would have sailed the Northwest Passage in 86 days in the 1940’s.

Paul S/G once again shows that he never reads about what he posts.

The boat kept very close to shore for most of its trip.

If you have ever been to an area where there is sea ice (I don’t think you get out very much) you will have observed that there is open water quite a bit of the time as winds and tides cause the ice to retreat and advance on an ongoing basis.

That gives a stretch of open water for maybe a mile at most but hardly counts as “loss of Arctic ice”.

Why don’t you go on stage and become a “stand up comic”?

Your posts are so comical. Pity that we are dealing with such an important effect and it is no joking matter.

As for the data I posted, why do you find them so funny? You are so arrogant, anything which disputes your distorted sense of reality is treated as a joke.

Well, in science we use data and facts, not jokes. Try it some time, you may get more respect if you were more honest.

Ian Forrester

It matters little whether Larsen stayed close to shore or not … the Passage was open … and he made the trip in 86 days. An amazing feat.

As for your “graph”, if you knew a little more of the history behind it, you would find that there is much speculation (and not too much data) built into many of the earlier decades. That is why it is still not known whether there was more, or less ice in the ’40s then there is now.

Larsen’s 86 day trip suggests ice conditions then were similar to what they are now.

Whatever you may think about that graph the information is much better than your “opinions”.

For an opinion to have any worth at all it must come from someone who is thought of as both knowledgeable and honest.

You fail completely under both of these criteria.

Go take your “opinions” (they are not even yours but plagiarized from denier web sites) else where, they are not welcome where actual science is discussed here by knowledgeable people.

Ian Forrester

Uh, it’s not my “opinion” that Larsen navigated the Northwest Passage in 86 days ago, it’s fact.

It is not your opinion that Larsen sailed through the Arctic Islands that is wrong, it is your “opinion” that there was less ice present in 1930 than now. That is a complete fabrication on your and other deniers part.

Here is a quote from an Arctic expert: ‘“I do not think that there was anything like we observe today” in the 1930s or 1940s, said Igor Polyakov, an ice expert at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks’.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,507047,00.html

Before you complain that that is only an opinion, I agree, however, whose opinion is closer to reality, an “opinion” from an anonymous blogger whose honesty and knowledge are non-existent or a scientist who has made a career out of studying the Arctic?

You are completely clueless.

Ian Forrester

An opinion being an opinion, how can one be closer to reality then the other? Data is required to do that.

Paul S/G, since are are too stupid too understand I will spell it out for you.

In order for an opinion to be worth anything the person making the opinion must have knowledge of the subject and sufficient brain power to THINK. Since you lack in both of these, your opinions on climate change are meaningless and worthless whereas those of a climate scientist such as Igor Polyakov are to be taken seriously. You are, of course, entitled to make them just as we are entitled to understand that your opinions are worthless.

It also helps to be honest.

I will continue to show that your opinions are not worthy of respect until you start being honest and doing some study on the subjects you are offering your “opinions” on. If for example, you state that it is your “opinion” that the sky is blue on a sunny day, then that opinion is worthy of respect since it agrees with the opinions of most thinking people. Your other “opinions” fall far short of being worthy of respect.

Ian Forrester

exactly, do you know of that suggests that McClure Strait was open in the 1930s-40s, as it was Summer 2007?

Paul S: “It matters little whether Larsen stayed close to shore or not … ”

It matters a great deal, since Larsen did not pass through the McClure Strait.

Paul S: “Larsen’s 86 day trip suggests ice conditions then were similar to what they are now.”

It suggests nothing of the kind. What it suggests is your willingness to make stuff up in the absence of facts.

So now Larsen didn’t take the correct route for the warmers. What nonsense will you come up with next?

Adult: Awareness, Sensitivity, Openness.

Buttplug: “Why Do We Care If Polar Bears Become Extinct? Submitted by Sun Tzu”

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