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Opening Statement: Examining Threats and Protections for the Polar Bear
January 30, 2008

 

Contact:          

 

Marc Morano 202-224-5762

marc_morano@epw.senate.gov

 Matt Dempsey 202-224-9797

matthew_dempsey@epw.senate.gov

 

Statement by Senator James M. Inhofe

Senate EPW Full Committee hearing

"Examining Threats and Protections for the Polar Bear"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

 

Good morning.  Much has been said about the polar bear, the threats it allegedly faces and what should be done about it.  In 2006, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, under force of litigation, proposed to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act based on concerns over retreating Arctic sea ice. 

The Service asserts that the reason for a decline in one or two bear populations is climate change.  To make that assertion, they rely on hypothetical computer models showing massive loss of ice, including a recent US Geological Survey modeling predicting that shrinking sea ice could eliminate 2/3 of the world's polar bears by 2050. 

This is a classic case of reality versus unproven computer models.  I look forward to the testimony of Scott Armstrong, an Ivy League professor and the nation's leading expert in forecasting methodology, who, along with an arctic climate change expert, authored a paper that challenges the USGS modeling.  The decision on whether or not to list the bear rests entirely on computer models.  If those models are invalid, then any decision based on them is not justifiable. 

Ironically, physical observation of the bear tells a much different story.  The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are currently 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears.  In the 1950s and 1960s, estimates were as low as 5,000-10,000 bears.  Canadian biologist Dr. Mitchell Taylor, the director of wildlife research with the Arctic government of Nunavut, dismisses these fears with evidence based data on polar bear populations in Canada, where 2/3 of the world's bears reside.  "Of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present."    

Just last month, researchers discovered an ancient polar bear jaw that dates back more than 100,000 years, to a time far warmer than the present.  One award-winning geologist and professor from the University of Iceland said about the discovery "that despite the on-going warming in the Arctic today, maybe we don't have to be quite so worried about the polar bear."  I would like to enter into the record a fact sheet I prepared with statements from biologists and wildlife scientists who have taken issue with the predictions of the demise of the polar bear.  I would also like to put in the record separate statements from Dr. Susan Crockford a Canadian Evolutionary Biologist and Dr. Matthew Cronin a Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

The fact is that the polar bear is simply a pawn in a much bigger game of chess.  Listing the bear as a threatened species is not about protecting the bear but about using the ESA to achieve global warming policy that special interest groups can not otherwise achieve through the legislative process.  These groups have made their agenda clear.  In comments filed with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity urged the Service to force greenhouse-gas-emitting projects, even those not in Alaska, to account for potential affects on the bear before they can go forward.  They wrote, "It is simply not possible to fully discuss the threat to the polar bear from global warming without...regulatory mechanisms to address greenhouse gas emissions." 

But the people who will suffer first under an ESA listing are the local, indigenous people in Alaska and Canada.   For example, Alaska's shipping, highway construction and fishing activities will have to be weighed against the bear.  Furthermore, the decision to list the polar would irreparably damage a culture.  On January 14, two groups representing Canadian Inuit people asserted that environmental groups are "using the Polar Bear for political reasons against the Bush Administration over greenhouse gas emissions."  According to President Mary Simon of ITK in Canada, "The Polar Bear is a very important subsistence, economic, cultural, conservation, management, and rights concern....It's a complex and multilevel concern. But it seems the media, environmental groups, and the public are looking at this in overly simplistic black and white terms."  I would like to enter the statement into the record and I look forward to the testimony of Richard Glenn, an Inupiaq Eskimo native from Alaska, who is a sea ice geologist and a subsistence hunter. 

The bear is also being used as a tool to stop or slow natural resource development in Alaska.  Last week, on the House side, witnesses supporting the listing of the polar bear stated that no oil and gas leases should be allowed until the bear is listed, its critical habitat designated and a recovery plan put in place.  That could be a very long time.  We have species that have been on the ESA list for decades and still don't have a recovery plan.  Oil and gas exploration in Alaska accounts for 85% of the state's revenue and 25% of the nation's domestic oil production.  The price of crude oil is nearing $100 a barrel.  Eliminating a quarter of the US oil production will make us more dependent on foreign sources of oil, not less. 

The bottom line is that the attempt to list the polar bear under the ESA is not based on any current polar bear decline but is founded entirely on computer climate models and predictions that are fraught with uncertainties.  Unfortunately, the bear is being used as a back door to climate change regulation.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.




January 2008 Press Releases

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