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Politicizing the Polar Bear

Posted on Jun 30, 2008
polar bear
Richard Ellis

By Richard Ellis

(Page 2)

But back in December 2006, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was proposing to list the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act and initiated a scientific review to determine the status of the species. Everyone agrees that the Arctic ice pack is shrinking, and it therefore stands to reason that the bears that rely on it should somehow be protected. In 1972, President Nixon called on Congress to pass comprehensive endangered species legislation. Congress responded by creating the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was signed into law on Dec. 28, 1973. That same year saw the creation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement restricting international commerce in plant and animal species believed to be actually or potentially harmed by trade. The U.S. CITES list includes all species protected by the ESA in addition to species that are vulnerable but not yet threatened or endangered. The stated purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect species and also “the ecosystems upon which they depend.” Listing the polar bear, with its diminishing population and its disappearing habitat, would seem to be a no-brainer, but there are some people in Alaska and elsewhere who disagree.

If the polar bear is listed as endangered, subsistence hunting and oil prospecting (not to mention oil drilling) would have an adverse effect on the bears and would be prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. “The state of Alaska,” wrote Tom Kizzia in the Anchorage Daily News (Sept. 8, 2007), “fearing consequences for subsistence hunting and oil production, has strenuously opposed a federal threatened-species listing, arguing, among other things, that bear populations have been stable and that too much uncertainty surrounds global warming trends.” But there is no uncertainty in the 2006 report by James Hansen et al., in which they stated that in the past 30 years average world surface temperatures have increased 0.2 degrees C per decade, but parts of the Arctic have experienced tenfold the average warming. The U.S. Geological Survey Reports that Secretary Kempthorne requested have now been issued, and the overall conclusion reads as follows:

“Projected changes in sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population by the mid-21st century. Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by current available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative.”

It’s much worse than we thought. “Ultimately,” the report concludes, “we projected a 42% loss of optimal bear habitat during summer in the polar basin by mid century.” And no, the bears will not fare well converting to land-based hunting; they are poorly equipped for chasing reindeer or musk oxen, and besides, those herbivores do not provide the high-calorie nutrition that the bears need. Listing the polar bear as endangered will not cool the Arctic and stop the ice from melting, but encouraging sport hunting and oil drilling in the bears’ Alaska habitat will speed them along the slippery slope toward extinction.

On Jan. 2, 2008, The New York Times ran an editorial titled “Of Two Minds on Polar Bears”: 

“Listing the polar bear would trigger a series of protections, including, in time, identifying habitat critical to the bears’ survival. It would also impose obligations on all federal agencies to avoid actions that could hurt the bears’ prospects. But the minerals service, where the wishes of the oil and gas industry carry great weight, has a history of doing as it pleases. Environmental groups and members of the House and Senate are thus asking Dirk Kempthorne, the interior secretary, to declare a timeout, postponing Chukchi Sea lease sales for three years pending further scientific study. ...
“The urgent and immediate question, though, is the future of the polar bear, which is bleak enough without further stresses. Everyone agrees that the over-whelming threat is the loss of sea ice, where the bears hunt for food and nurture their young. Yet there is also wide recognition among federal scientists, even in the minerals service, that the many activities associated with oil drilling—the seismic tests, the vast increase in ship traffic, the noise, the potential spills—can only weaken the bear’s resilience.”

The U.S. government is not likely to heed such editorials, and two days after publication of the New York Times opinion the Minerals and Management Service announced that it would seek bids for petroleum licenses in the Chukchi Sea on Feb. 6. Under consideration is a 46,000-square-mile area between Alaska and the coast of the Russian Far East, which is said to hold 15 billion gallons of recoverable oil and a huge volume of natural gas. It is also the home of one of the main populations of polar bears in U.S. and Russian territory, as well as large walrus herds. In response to the announcement, Margaret Williams of the WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) said, “The chances for survival of this icon of the Arctic will be greatly diminished if its last remaining critical habitat is turned into a vast oil and gas field.” Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco responded to the announcement even more dramatically, saying, “The polar bear is in need of intensive care, but with this lease sale the Bush administration is threatening to burn down the hospital.”



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By samosamo, July 2, 2008 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment

Well I say or actually don’t have to say: Let the drilling begin because who is going to stop a bunch of oil addicted mother fuckers that think that the price of oil and gas will go down because of drilling lowers the price of gas and oil. Well, so they can go back to driving those monster vehicles, heck in my state, you would never even know that gas was $4/gal and the suv and big boy trucks to ride around town in were an issue to dive at the drop of a hat.
And the environment will remain pristine. Plenty of fresh air and clean water. Let em drill. Unless the human population goes below 1billion and stays there, everything will be lost on this planet, sooner than later

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By Wallace Kaufman, July 2, 2008 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment
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If one is hell bent on listing the polar bear as endangered for the sake of political ends, then science, logic and experience are no obstacle to weak and phoney arguments.  Take the proposition that development threatens to disrupt their lives and existence. I have traveled fairly well in the Russian arctic where polar bears are numerous, and I have video of them visiting towns and small cities.  Like many other bears, they don’t mind being around humans. 

Or take the idea that increasing bear populations (a fact) shouldn’t stand in the way.  Well, what does constitute delisting or evidence of survival?  Regulate hunting, fine. Protect special habitat areas, fine.  But evoke all the draconian and legal battles of endangered status?  Illogical, or perhaps just political.

The idea that bears need to hunt from ice floes and that their only land food is reindeer, is also nonsense.  Wrangell Island bears and many others hunt sea mammals very successfully along the shore line. 

I love the arctic and its wildlife. I don’t find much use for people who lie about them.

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By Pacrat, July 2, 2008 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

At last there is scientific proof that polar bears are dangerous and major contributors to global warming. And here we have been blaming coal power generating plants! This news will wipe the smiles off the faces of those polar bears!

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By Bu-SHIT-ler, July 2, 2008 at 6:33 am Link to this comment

Kath, I agree with you, and to re-assure you, these sheeple aren’t getting away with it. As these evil human parasites continue to terrorize people, and all life as we know it, their complete extinction is imminent. I’m glad that I got to be part of a Team that will help decide the fate of these low-life scum. My research is just about complete…all the globe’s struggles, the parasites impoverishing people, the groups responsible for life and death decisions, the countries responsible for global proliferation/global warming, everyone in industries that destroy life, and lives, regardless of species, etc., etc., etc. These parasites who should never have seen the light of day (Soulless beings born into evil families), aka: God’s bastards. There will be sweeping change, and there will be no mercy upon those who accomodate, condone, conspire with, or even support such beings. Humanity needs to stand up for itself if it wants to avoid the same fate as the dinossaurs. The pinnacle of Humanity’s Fate is at its tipping point, and the majority need to confront the minority before it’s too late. Politics is destroying everything it touches, and Capitalism is tightening its grip on the globe and all its resources. When the 2 come together as they already have, you get Socio-Economic Terrorism, and the ultimate consequence will be a global genocide through various conspiracies involving every major industry out there, and with no end in sight, unless the people take their governments back. If people fail in this, God will ultimately have to decide whether to save the planet from Humanity, or let Humanity destroy itself and the planet in order to start anew…I don’t believe the latter choice would work because the creation/preservation of all other species would have to be protected.

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By Gloria Picchetti, July 2, 2008 at 4:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t there anyone who can donate old barges and things that float to be anchored where the polar bears and other animals can swim to while we learn how to deal with Global Warming? I know it’s one of my dumbest ever ideas but doesn’t anyone want beautiful wild animals to survive?

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By kath cantarella, July 1, 2008 at 4:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People will soon be starving along with the bears. Is there a bleak justice in that? Maybe not. The ones who’ll suffer the least are probably the ones who are the most responsible.

But we all create our societies, and we are all to blame. I feel sorry for the kids, and their kids. What subtle horrors we hand down to those we love.

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