NEW YORK (April 9, 2007) – In just 90 days, more than 500,000 Americans have urged federal officials to list polar bears as officially threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to the profound effect that global warming is having on their habitat, according to U.S. government statistics. That figure is almost double the former record for the number of comments in an endangered species listing case in U.S. history.
Polar bear habitat is melting at a dangerous and unprecedented rate, according to internationally recognized scientists. At this rate, polar bears will not survive, they say.
“The sense of urgency about the fate of the polar bears is like nothing we’ve ever seen in an endangered species listing,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Endangered Species Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) . “The plight of these animals is critical, and so is the sense that the changes affecting them are eventually going to affect us. That’s why there is such tremendous public support for getting this listing done.”
In December, under pressure from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, and Greenpeace, the Bush administration proposed the listing. Today marks the end of the required 90-day comment period. The government has until early next year to decide whether to go forward with the plan.
“Just 10 more years of current global warming pollution trajectories will commit us to enough warming to melt the Arctic and doom the polar bear to extinction,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate, Air, and Energy Program. “We urgently need to address global warming, not just for the sake of the polar bear but for the sake of people and wildlife around the world.”
If the polar bear is listed, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service must designate critical habitat, and prepare a polar bear recovery plan. In addition, all federal agencies will be prohibited from taking any action – including issuing permits – that would be likely to jeopardize the bear’s continued existence or result in the adverse changes to its designated critical habitat.
“Global warming is rapidly destroying the ice habitat that polar bears depend on for every aspect of their survival: from mating and raising their cubs to hunting and travel,” said Melanie Duchin, Greenpeace Global Warming Campaigner in Alaska. “The public gets it and the public wants to see action taken to halt global warming and protect the polar bear.”
Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on the sea ice for all of their essential needs. Five of the world's polar bear populations are now classified as "declining" by the Polar Bear Specialist Group, the world's preeminent scientific body for the conservation and management of the species.
On April 4, 2007, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported the winter 2007 Arctic sea ice maximum – defined as the area with sea ice concentrations of 15 percent or greater – was the second-lowest in the satellite record, narrowly missing the March 2006 record and making 2007 the third consecutive year to see winter sea ice at near record-low levels.