Global Warming, Melting Ice are Rapidly Eroding Animal's Arctic Habitat

NEW YORK (October 12, 2005) -- Survival of the world's remaining polar bears is increasingly jeopardized by rapid disappearance of the arctic sea ice on which they depend for hunting, mating and migration, according to three leading conservation groups that today announced they are taking legal action to have the bears listed as "threatened" under America's Endangered Species Act. They point to extensive scientific evidence showing that the unprecedented polar meltdown is the result of global warming.

The groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Greenpeace. Polar bears would be the first mammal to be officially declared at risk due to global warming.

"The polar bears' habitat is melting right out from under them as Arctic temperatures rise," said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Their entire lifecycle, from finding food to finding mates, depends on these seas being frozen. If things continue as they are, these majestic animals will be driven out of existence."

Polar bears, the largest of all bears, live only in the Arctic and are totally reliant on the sea ice. They feed mainly on ringed seals, which live in the same habitat. But a growing body of evidence is proving that the ice is vanishing much faster than previously documented. In late September, NASA and the University of Colorado released a report revealing that the Arctic ice cap has shrunk twenty percent since 1979, losing an area the size of Colorado in just the past year.

"We need to take action now to protect these animals and preserve their Arctic habitat. We cannot afford to ignore the threat any longer," said Andrew Wetzler of NRDC.

Turning Up the Arctic Heat

Last year, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, involving 300 scientists from the U.S. and seven other nations, also found that Arctic sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, and identified global warming as the cause. Even under conservative estimates, the scientists said Arctic winter temperatures could rise as much as eighteen degrees Fahrenheit, eliminating year-round ice completely by the end of the century.

In Canada's Western Hudson Bay, where the sea ice season has shortened by three weeks in recent decades, polar bears are already in decline. Fewer cubs are surviving, and the total bear population declined almost 14 percent from 1995 to 2004.

Global warming is caused by heat-trapping pollution such as carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks, power plants, and other sources that accumulates in the atmosphere and prevents the sun's heat from escaping. The United States is the largest world contributor of those emissions.

First Petition is Ignored

The groups first petitioned to have the polar bear listed as threatened last February. The Endangered Species Act requires that the Secretary of the Interior respond within 90 days of receiving such notice, but the Secretary has yet to comply. Today's announcement is a legally-required notice of intent to sue the agency for action. Formal filing will occur after the agency has had 60 days from today's notice to comply with the law.

Listing under the United States Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to polar bears, including a requirement that United States federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the United States government will not "jeopardize the continued existence" of polar bears, or adversely modify their critical habitat.

Earlier this year the International Union for the Conservation of Nature/World Conservation Union's Polar Bear Specialist Group -- the leading polar bear scientific body, recommended the bears be classified as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List of imperiled wildlife at high risk of extinction in the wild. The primary reason, they said, is global warming.

"If we want to save the majestic polar bear, we must cut global warming pollution," said Kert Davies of Greenpeace. "We have the know how to fix the problem, but we need leadership from the U.S. government to make it happen. Our addiction to dirty energy sources will exact its price."