After Delay on Listing Status, Polar Bear Survival Remains Precarious

Monday, February 4, 2008
Washington, D.C., United States
After a one month delay, an announcement by the Bush Administration is imminent on whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare www.ifaw.org) today called upon the Administration to not only list the polar bear as endangered, but to make the decision before the scheduled February 6 oil and gas lease sales in the polar bear habitat along the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan Coast.
“Polar bears are already facing potentially catastrophic threats from global warming, vanishing habitats, toxic pollution, and trophy hunting,” said Jeffrey Flocken, Office Director, IFAW Washington, D.C. “Representing over 2 million animal welfare advocates around the world, IFAW hopes that the Bush Administration will choose to list the polar bears as endangered, resulting in meaningful protection from these threats.”

Today, polar bears are vulnerable to natural- and human-caused disturbances, including global climate change, habitat alteration, trophy hunting, chemical contamination, and pollution and habitat loss from oil and gas exploration. Listing polar bears under the ESA could have an enormous political and practical impact, as this would be the first time global warming has been a factor in implementing species’ protection. By listing the animal, the Bush Administration would be put on the record admitting that global warming is a significant threat to an arctic species.

The matter is further complicated by the Bush Administration’s recent announcement that it plans to offer several million acres of polar bear habitat in the Arctic for the sale of oil and gas leases before the polar bear listing -- making the creature’s habitat vulnerable to big business interests and jeopardizing the government’s ability to protect it.

“The plight of polar bears is unprecedented and very real, and IFAW continues to call upon the U.S. government to address all threats to polar bears – including taking meaningful actions to combat global warming, putting the interests of living species before oil exploration, and closing the trophy hunting loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act that currently allows Americans to import polar bear trophies from Canada,” said Flocken. 

Presently, polar bear hunting is prohibited in the U.S., but a loophole inserted for special interest groups into the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1994 allows Americans to hunt polar bears in Canada and bring home their trophies. Since 1997, over 950 permits have been issued to American hunters by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the species is listed as “threatened,” the Service could still create a special rule allowing the import of polar bear trophies from Canada to continue, however, an “endangered” listing would make such a special exemption nearly impossible.

“The global community must take responsibility for the future of polar bears and make every effort to protect this emblematic creature,” added Flocken. “There is no time for procrastination or for empty policy solutions. What this Administration decides will set us in a direction to help save the polar bear, or watch it slide into extinction.”

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