Protect the Polar Bears

i-4db16551f386f11651c33a7f99af8d0e-P8243793.jpgA source tells the Washington Post that Uafter much pressure, the Feds will be listing the Polar Bear as a “threatened” species:

The Bush administration has decided to propose listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, putting the U.S. government on record as saying that global warming could drive one of the world’s most recognizable animals out of existence.

This is a remarkable step, and it is not the least bit surprising that the administration is announcing this between Christmas and New Years, when the minimum number of people read newspapers or the Federal Register.

There’s little doubt that bear populations are in dire straits, and that this move is the right decision in terms of the population biology of the bears. The number of offspring is dropping, and survival rates for young bears are low as well. Bears are seen to be thinner and in worse shape than they have been in previous years, and observations of unusual behaviors like cannibalism are on the rise.

Listing these bears may require the federal government to address climate change directly, since the major threat to their populations is not hunting or human development in their habitat. They are threatened (and there’s no doubt that they are indeed in danger of extinction) because climate change is degrading their habitat and harming their prey.

That means that the government cannot simply act to limit development above the Arctic Circle. It will be necessary to address root causes behind the changes in Arctic environments, causes located in coal powered plants in the lower 48, in emissions from cars, trucks and sea-going vessels that supply vital resources to Alaska and to all of us.

Juliet Eilperin’s piece does a good job of laying out some of what’s wrong in polar bear populations, and I encourage you to read up on it and to consider sending the Fish and Wildlife Service your own thoughts on the importance of protecting polar bears.