In May 2008, polar bears joined the list of threatened animals covered under the Endangered Species Act. Six months later, the Bush administration issued a rule that prevented lawmakers from barring activities that contribute to global warming—a move that protected greenhouse-gas polluters and put the bears and their habitat at risk.
Sadly, Ken Salazar, our new Secretary of the Interior, has decided to let Bush’s ruling stand, even though wildlife groups and congressional Democrats have been pushing him to rescind it. Congress, in fact, had passed a bill that gave Salazar full authority to overturn the rule and implement protections, but he failed to do so. He instead plans to “closely monitor the implementation of the rule to determine if additional measures are necessary to conserve and recover the polar bear and its habitat,” according to a departmental statement.
“To see the polar bear’s habitat melting and an iconic species threatened is an environmental tragedy of the modern age,” Salazar said. “This administration is fully committed to the protection and recovery of the polar bear. I have reviewed the current rule, received the recommendations of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and concluded that the best course of action for protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act is to wisely implement the current rule, monitor its effectiveness and evaluate our options for improving the recovery of the species.”
He added: “We must do all we can to help the polar bear recover, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change. However, the Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions. Instead, we need a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts—including the loss of sea ice. Both President Obama and I are committed to achieving that goal.”
Salazar also claimed polar bears are already protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and several international treaties, but wildlife groups were quick to criticize his decision.
“We’re very disappointed that Secretary Salazar decided not to cut through the red tape and restore protections for polar bears immediately,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The polar bear’s Arctic sea ice habitat is melting away, the Arctic seals which polar bears hunt for food are becoming increasingly scarce, and the cause is clearly global warming. In spite of this, Secretary Salazar is leaving in place a rule that says activities that cause global warming and therefore harm polar bears will never be considered violations of the Endangered Species Act under any circumstances. That made no sense under the Bush administration and it certainly makes no sense for the Obama administration.”
The group will pursue litigation that challenges the rule.
“It is categorically not true to say that the Marine Mammal Protection Act provides sufficient protections for the polar bear, and the Interior Department should know that,” Clark said. “We will do everything we can to ensure that the Obama administration gives the polar bear the vital protections it needs to survive. The polar bear is running out of time.”
Editor’s Note: OrganicAuthority publishes environmental news so organic consumers have access to the latest information on climate change and other threats. You can view similar posts by visiting the Environment Section of our blog.