Contextual Content

US polar bear protection falls short

The US government declared the polar bear a threatened species on Wednesday,
citing global warming and decline in sea ice over the last three decades as the major causes. The announcement comes after environmental groups won a court order earlier this year, which forced the government make a decision by May 15, 2008. While the decision was welcomed, the listing falls short of what many had hoped for.

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Story Transcript

VOICEOVER: The US government declared the polar bear a threatened species on Wednesday. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited global warming and a decline in sea ice over the last three decades as a threat to the polar bear.

DIRK KEMPTHORNE, US INTERIOR SECRETARY: Our scientists advise me that computer modeling projects a significant population decline by the year 2050. This in my judgment makes the polar bear a threatened species, one likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.

VOICEOVER: Projections of continued losses mean that the species is likely to be in danger of extinction in the near future. According to environmental groups, the government has been stalling on a decision to protect polar bears for several months in order to issue oil and gas exploration leases in Alaska. The decision was made only after a coalition of environmental groups sued the government under the Endangered Species Act. The coalition won a court order which forced the government to make a decision about the polar bear by May 15.

VOICE OF ANDREW WETZLER, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Unfortunately, it took dragging the Bush administration into court on at least several occasions to get this determination that the polar bear is in fact endangered. When a citizen group like the NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council] and the Center for Biological Diversity files a petition to protect the polar bear, which we did, the Endangered Species Act sets forth mandatory deadlines that the federal government had to comply with. And in this case, as in many cases, the administration simply blew the deadlines off. It completely ignored them. And the only way to get a final decision was for us to sue and to make a federal judge order the Bush administration to make a final decision, which is what they did.

VOICEOVER: Environmental groups welcomed the decision, but the listing falls short of what many had hoped for. Some groups are already challenging the limitations of the government’s decision.

VOICE OF KIERAN SUCKLING, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: Unfortunately, at the same that the Bush administration listed the polar bear, it attempted to undermine the listing. For example, it refused to designate the Arctic as a protected critical habitat area, so there’s no direct protection for the Arctic. And then it issued a special rule to exempt greenhouse gas emissions and oil and gas exploration and drilling from the Endangered Species Act. So the Bush administration is doing its best to try to make the decision as meaningless as possible. We filed a second lawsuit on May 16, challenging Bush’s attempt to exempt greenhouse gases from the Endangered Species Act. So we’re in court already, and we expect that we’ll get some rulings fairly soon telling the administration to play it straight and just protect the bear and not attempt these sideways exemptions.

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