WASHINGTON (CN) – Although the primary reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added polar bears to the list of threatened and endangered species was loss of habitat due to global warming, the Obama administration announced plans to protect the bear that do not even mention the phenomenon.
Instead, a special rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service perpetuates reliance on protections the bear receives under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which focus on regulating the impact of direct human interaction with the bears.
Critics, like the Center for Biological Diversity, which first petitioned to list polar bears as endangered, says this focus undermines conservation of the bears because the major threat to their existence comes from outside their habitat: emission of greenhouse gases.
In a press release, Kassie Siegel, director of the Center’s Climate Law Institute, went so far as to say that the “Obama administration seems to be living in a fantasy world where the way to solve a difficult problem is to deny its existence.”
The USFWS acknowledges that loss of habitat threatens the bears but maintains that it lacks the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “Based on the current state of the science, nothing within our authority under the ESA… would provide a means to resolve this threat.”
The proposed rule is the result of a protracted legal battle between the USFWS and conservation groups, which sued arguing that the agency failed to conduct an environmental review of the rule’s impact.
In October, a federal district court judge struck down the rule and ordered the USFWS to complete the review and reissue the rule in accordance with its findings.
The draft environmental assessment released by the USFWS looked at four alternative means of protecting the polar bears, none of which included greenhouse gas emissions or provisions for requiring other federal agencies to consider the polar bear’s status when making new rules, except where those rules regulate activity in the bear’s range.
The public has until June 18 to comment on the proposed rule and the environmental assessment.