Bush Rule Denies Full Endangered Act Protection for Polar Bears
The Bush administration released a proposed final rule for protecting polar bears that does not give the bears the full protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
While implementing important protections provided by the ESA, the special rule, in most instances, adopts existing conservation requirements for the polar bear under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Service protected the polar bear as a threatened species under the ESA on May 15, 2008.
"When I announced the protection of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act earlier this year, I outlined the need to continue to allow activities permissible under the stricter standards imposed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act," said Kempthorne. "This rule will protect polar bear populations, while ensuring the safety of communities living in close contact with the bears and allowing for continued environmentally sound development of our natural resources in the arctic region."
Provisions such as incidental harm or death in the ESA will not apply to the polar bear. Protection would end at Alaska, as the rule says it found no correlation between outside activity and declining populations.
This provision ensures that the ESA is not used inappropriately to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmentalists and wildlife advocates quickly took aim at the proposed new rule.
“This rule makes a mockery of the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s most important wildlife protection law,” said Defenders of Wildlife executive vice president, Jamie Rappaport Clark. “The polar bear doesn’t have time for political maneuvers. Its habitat is melting away, its food is becoming scarce and the science is clear that the cause is global warming - yet the rule this administration released today affirms that little will be done to save the species from sure extinction.”
Secretary Kempthorne says the rule will protect the arctic giants and will keep the Department of Interior out of the global warming debate.
"This special rule will ensure that this icon of the arctic retains important protections as we work with the State of Alaska and other nations within the polar bear's range to develop and implement conservation measures. But as President Bush and I have said before, the ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate change policy," said Kempthorne.
Defenders of wildlife call the rule " irresponsible and shameful".
“It’s really not surprising that the Bush administration, with its longstanding resistance to taking any responsible action against global warming, would think of a stunt like this in its waning days in office” said Clark. “To finally admit that the science compels the listing of the polar bear as threatened due to global warming, but then deny it the protections the Endangered Species Act should provide is nothing other than irresponsible and shameful."
The rule, as delivered to the Federal Register, can be viewed at: http://alaska.fws.gov/pdf/pb4d.pdf.
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