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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Polar Bear Special Rule Disappoints Enviros

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it has finalized a special rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the protection of threatened polar bears. The decision was deemed inadequate by environmental groups that have been pushing for more protections for the bears.

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The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) titled its press release on the subject "Obama Administration Finalizes Polar Bear Extinction Plan," while the Defenders of Wildlife (DOW) noted in their statement that the rule contained "extensive deficiencies" and quoted the group's president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, as saying, "We need to take bold steps to help these animals before it's too late. This rule simply doesn't measure up."

The controversy revolves around the issue of green house gases (GHG), climate change and disappearing sea ice, which the groups maintain are not adequately addressed by the new rule.

"Polar bears were the first species added to the endangered and threatened species list solely because of threats from global warming, following a petition by the center. The bears depend on sea ice for hunting and other essential behaviors. But the new regulation's main purpose is to exempt the greenhouse gas emissions melting that ice from the Act's reach. The rule also reduces the protections the bears would otherwise receive in Alaska from oil-industry activities in their habitat," the CBD claimed.

"[T]he decision precludes the consideration of climate change and carbon emissions when assessing impacts to the bear, a provision that essentially renders the ESA protection under Section 7 of the act useless," the DOW concurred.

"The service recognizes that the biggest long-term threat to polar bears is the loss of sea ice habitat from climate change. While GHG emissions are clearly contributing to that climate change, comprehensive authority to regulate those emissions is not found in the ESA. The challenge posed by climate change and its ultimate solution is much broader. Rising to that challenge, federal and state governments, industry, and nonprofit organizations are exploring ways to collectively reduce GHG emissions as we continue to meet our nation's energy needs. The service is working in other arenas to address the effects of climate change on polar bears," the agency asserted in its rule.

The special rule adopts "the longstanding and more stringent protections of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as the primary regulatory provisions for this threatened species," according to the agency's statement.

The rule continues the same management guidelines that have been in place since the bears were originally listed as threatened in 2008. "By maintaining the stricter MMPA incidental take prohibition, which include[s] provisions stricter than those imposed by the ESA, we can assure protection of this iconic species while continuing to allow those who live and work in polar bear habitat to employ practices that will reduce bear/human interactions for the benefit of both polar bears and people," USFWS Alaska Regional Director Geoff Haskett was quoted as saying, in the final rule.

The final rule made no changes from the April proposed rule and it takes effect March 22.

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