Bush Administration to Miss Deadline for Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing

Environmental Groups will Return to Court to Enforce Deadline

WASHINGTON (January 7, 2008) – In response to the Bush administration’s announcement that it will not meet Wednesday’s deadline to issue a final Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing determination for the polar bear due to global warming, environmental groups announced their intent to go back to court to enforce the deadline.

The administration was required by law to make its decision by Wednesday following its proposal one year ago, but today announced “we expect to...finalize the decision within the next month.” The Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Greenpeace will begin legal action Wednesday with a formal notice to sue as required by the Endangered Species Act.

“We certainly hope that the polar bear will be listed within the next month. But this is an administration of broken promises, from Bush’s campaign pledge to regulate greenhouse gases to Secretary Kempthorne’s failure to list a single species under the Endangered Species Act in the last 607 days,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, and lead author of the 2005 petition. “We’ll begin the enforcement process Wednesday.”

The Endangered Species Act requires a listing process of no longer than two years, but in this case almost three years have passed since the scientific petition was submitted in February, 2005, calling on the government to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. The groups sued the Bush administration in December, 2005, when it missed its first deadline. Responding to the suit in February, 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that protection of polar bears “may be warranted,” and commenced a full status review of the species. Then, on December 27, 2006, the Service announced its proposal to list the species as “threatened” and had one year to make a final listing decision. The legal deadline for doing so is January 9, 2008.

“The polar bear needs a lifeline,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Endangered Species Project at NRDC. “Urgent action is required by our government. Polar bears’ very existence is already threatened by environmental disaster, and they also face toxic contamination and habitat destruction from oil and gas development. The administration's endless delay is outrageous and unwarranted.”

Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent upon the sea ice for all of their essential needs. Their future in a rapidly warming Arctic is dim. In September 2007, scientists reported that the Arctic cap has lost one million square miles – an area six-times the size of California – shattering records from the past several decades and beating predictions not expected until mid-century. The U.S. Geological Service also predicted that two-thirds of the world's polar bear population would likely be extinct by 2050, including all polar bears within the United States.

Shrinking sea ice also drastically restricts polar bears' ability to hunt their main prey, ice seals. In the spring of 2006, scientists located the bodies of several bears that had starved to death. Reduced food availability due to global warming has also caused polar bears to resort to cannibalism off the north coast of Alaska and Canada.

“The Bush administration has squandered seven years denying the devastating scientific evidence of global warming,” said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace USA. “Stalling has cost us dearly, putting the polar bear at risk of extinction and jeopardizing the future welfare of billions of people around the world. This further unjustified delay is emblematic of the administration's approach.”

To date, the government has received more than 500,000 comments in support of protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, including letters from eminent polar bear experts, climate scientists, and more than 60 members of Congress. This is a record number of public comments in support of an Endangered Species Act listing.

Listing the polar bear guarantees federal agencies will be obligated to ensure that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out will not jeopardize the polar bears' continued existence or adversely modify their critical habitat, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be required to prepare a recovery plan for the polar bear, specifying measures necessary for its protection.

The Endangered Species Act is one of the world's most powerful and successful laws when it comes to saving animals on the brink of extinction. Over 98 percent of the animals and plants protected by the Endangered Species Act are still alive today thanks, in large measure, to the safety net this Act provides. 

NOTE: B-Roll is available upon request. Please contact Serena Ingre at contact info above for more information.