by the Center for Biological Diversity
SAN FRANCISCO— On the fifth anniversary of polar bears’ placement on the endangered species list, the Center for Biological Diversity today launched federal litigation challenging the Obama administration’s failure to consider “endangered” status for the polar bear or develop a recovery plan for this gravely imperiled species. A new Center report released today, On Thin Ice, finds that polar bears face greater threats from melting sea ice and global warming now than they did in 2008, when they were first declared “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
In a formal notice of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act, the Center pointed out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not conducted a required five-year review of threats to polar bears despite new evidence that the bears’ status has declined enough to deserve an endangered listing. Similarly, the administration has failed to develop a recovery plan for polar bears despite repeated promises to do so.
“If the Obama administration doesn’t make a plan to save polar bears, in a few decades we’ll be writing their obituary,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “As climate change burns away Arctic sea ice, these magnificent animals teeter on the brink of oblivion. Our government has to cut the greenhouse gas pollution that’s warming the Arctic and driving polar bears off the planet — and it has to act now.”
Scientists say that, without help, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, including all of those in Alaska, could be gone by 2050.
The polar bear was protected as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act in 2008, following a Center lawsuit. Since then the Obama administration has endorsed and defended a Bush-era rule preventing the polar bears’ protected status from triggering additional measures to deal with global warming. Obama officials have also opened polar bear critical habitat to oil and gas development and failed to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, ships, planes, offroad engines or coal mines.
The administration has taken one positive step for polar bears by pushing for increased protections for the species from the international rug trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
As the Center’s report notes, polar bears depend on sea ice for hunting and other essential behaviors. Yet sea-ice melt has accelerated in recent years. In September 2012 Arctic sea ice reached a record low minimum extent — almost 300,000 square miles (an area about the size of Texas) smaller than the previous record low reached in 2007.
The report examined five key indicators that all point to a grim future for the bear:
|SURVIVAL INDICATOR||KEY FACT|
|Arctic Sea Ice||In September 2012, Arctic sea-ice extent hit a record low.|
|Arctic Temperatures||The Arctic has warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the globe on average.|
|Carbon Emissions||Since 2008 global carbon emissions have increased more than 13 percent.|
|Population Status||At least eight of the 19 polar bear populations are declining.|
|Policies||The Obama administration refuses to protect polar bears from greenhouse gas pollution.|
“The polar bears’ situation is bleak, but it’s not too late to save them,” said Siegel. “And if we do what’s needed to save polar bears, we’ll also be doing what’s needed to protect the rest of the world from the worst ravages of global warming.”
Today’s 60-day notice of intent to sue is required before a lawsuit can be filed to compel Fish and Wildlife to comply with the Endangered Species Act and better protect the polar bear.