For the second time in the past three months, the EPW Committee conducted a hearing on the decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The potential listing of the polar bear under ESA is being promoted by many activists as a way to save the bear. Today’s hearing also focused on the Department of the Interior’s failure to meet its court-ordered and statutory deadlines for making a listing decision and the subsequent lawsuit brought by environmental groups.
FACT: Worldwide polar bear population numbers are at or near all-time highs, especially in comparison to 40-50 years ago. A majority of populations are considered stable and some are increasing. Listing polar bears under ESA will alter the original intent of ESA and may create “a regulatory monster of unprecedented proportions.”
William P. Horn, former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks in 1985-1988 (responsible for the ESA program) and experience serving on the Board of Environmental Sciences and Toxicology of the National Academy of Sciences, testified today:
“It would be a mistake to list the presently healthy and sustainable polar bear populations as a threatened species under the ESA. Such action will produce a variety of adverse consequences including (1) creating an ESA listing precedent that opens Pandora’s Box in the form of other unwarranted listings that will diminish resources available for bona fide wildlife conservation and recovery efforts, (2) setting the stage for new rounds of litigation and judicial activism to turn the ESA into a regulatory monster of unprecedented proportions, and (3) harming existing successful polar bear conservation and management programs…A decision to list a presently healthy species – exhibiting no present trajectory toward endangerment − based on large scale hemispheric models forecasting problems 50 years in the future is a radical departure from the language of the ESA. It pushes the decision horizon far into the genuinely unseeable future, is predicated on uncertain intervening events where it is difficult if not impossible to tie those events directly to specific on-the-ground situations, and will likely precipitate the subsequent listing of an array of otherwise healthy species which might also be forecast to face problems a half century or more from now. By stretching the ESA and encompassing under its umbrella an unknown number of such species, finite monetary and staff resources will be further divided and resources diminished and diverted from conservation and recovery of species facing bona fide imminent threats and where FWS is actually capable of conserving such species. That is bad conservation strategy and bad policy.”
Horn also cautioned that listing polar bears under ESA will open the door to massive litigation.
“The predicate of the listing is that greenhouse gas emissions are triggering melting of the Arctic Sea ice habitat upon which the polar bears depend. Yet ESA provides – and FWS possesses − no authority or expertise to regulate such emissions on a national, hemispheric, or global basis. Clearly, FWS cannot tell the governments of China or India to stop building new coal fired power plants. A polar bear listing will also trigger a sequence of events in which FWS is compelled to expand the scope of its regulatory activities into realms (e.g., air emissions) where it cannot be effective as a matter of fact or law. The agency will be pressed well beyond its expertise and resources to become the uberregulator of our nation’s greenhouse gas emitting electrical and transportation systems. That will detract from focus on areas and species where FWS can be effective and conserve genuinely at-risk species.”
The headline-grabbing missed statutory deadline is not an unprecedented occurrence, nor is it unique to the Bush Administration. Statutory and court-ordered deadlines should be met but it is not the first time that the Fish and Wildlife Service has missed one of these deadlines. For example, in July 1998, the Clinton Administration proposed to list the Canadian Lynx as threatened under ESA. The final rule was published in March 2000—exceeding the statutory one-year deadline by more than 250 days. From 1998-2000, the Clinton Administration reportedly had a 10% success rate in getting listing decisions made within the one-year statutory window.
The decision is overdue by 90 days, and the two Democrats who showed up at the EPW hearing took the opportunity to express outrage over the delay. It is very telling that the Democrats chose this missed deadline over which to get so upset. The fact that the EPW Committee has had two hearings on a single listing decision reinforces the point that the listing of the polar bear 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.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the polar bear a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This report details the scientists debunking polar bear endangerment fears and features a sampling of the latest peer-reviewed science detailing the natural causes of recent Arctic ice changes. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that the polar bear population is currently at 20,000 to 25,000 bears, up from as low as 5,000-10,000 bears in the 1950s and 1960s. A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey of wildlife in the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain noted that the polar bear populations “may now be near historic highs.” The alarm about the future of polar bear decline is based on speculative computer model predictions many decades in the future. And the methodology of these computer models is being challenged by many scientists and forecasting experts. (LINK)
The New York Times reported this week on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) Minority report debunking fears of polar bear extinction. John Tierney's January 31 article, titled "Polar Bears and Seer Suckers," called the EPW Minority's report "persuasive at debunking the predictions of polar bears going extinct this century."
Tierney noted that polar bear extinction fears are "being stoked to build support in the U.S. for listing them as a ‘threatened' or ‘endangered' species even though it's not clear that their overall numbers are declining." (LINK) Tierney noted that the EPW Minority's polar bear report featured "one very hard piece of evidence that casts doubt on the doomsday predictions: a polar bear jawbone that appears to be at least 110,000 years old, meaning that polar bears have survived eras with considerably warmer temperatures than today." [Note: For more on the discovery of an ancient jaw bone which "confirms the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago" and thus survived past warming periods, see - LINK]
Polar Bear Pandering By Debra Saunders (San Francisco Chronicle)
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California delivered a speech in the Senate last week in which she linked global warming to the San Diego wildfires, Darfur, the imminent loss of the world's polar bears and even a poor 14-year-old boy who died from "an infection caused after swimming in Lake Havasu," because its water is warmer. Forget arson. Forget genocide. Forget nature. There is no tragedy that cannot be placed at the doorstep of global-warming skeptics. Oh, and there's no need to acknowledge that the regulations or taxes necessary to curb emissions by a substantial degree might damage economic growth. According to Boxer, laws to curb greenhouse gases - this country would have to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half over 12 years to meet the latest international community goals - will do good things for the American economy and create lots of jobs. It's Nostradamus Science wedded to Santa Claus economics. It is rhetoric such as Boxer's - an odd combination of the-end-is-near hysteria and overly rosy economic scenarios - that keep me in the agnostic/skeptic global-warming camp. Boxer and Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that Boxer chairs, have been engaging in a running debate on global warming. Last month, Inhofe took on the Al Gore suggestion that polar bears are in peril because of global warming. Inhofe pointed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services estimates that show the polar bear population at about 20,000 to 25,000 bears - up from the estimated 5,000 to 10,000 polar bears in the 1950s and 1960s.
Canadian Survey Reveals Polar Bears Populations Increasing - Nearly Tripled Since 1980's
National Post By Don Martin Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Their status ranges from a "vulnerable" to "endangered" and could be declared "threatened" if the U.S. decides the polar bear is collateral damage of climate change.
Nobody talks about "overpopulated" when discussing the bears' outlook.Yet despite the Canadian government 's $150-million commitment last week to fund 44 International Polar Year research projects, a key question is not up for detailed scientific assessment: If the polar bear is the 650-kilogram canary in the climate change coal mine, why are its numbers INCREASING?
EPW FACT OF THE DAY February 7, 2007
FACT: Many Canadian indigenous peoples, international governments and conservation groups clearly agree with Dr Foote’s position that the polar bear should not be listed. The following comments below were submitted by groups during the US Fish and Wildlife Service petition process regarding the listing of the polar bear: Inuvialuit Game Council (Represents the collective Inuvialuit interest in wildlife and wildlife habitat) "Sound polar bear populations all overlap the ISR ("Inuvialuit Settlement Region"). These populations of polar bears have helped sustain the Inuvialuit for generations to do so. Currently, these populations are healthy and thriving … we can see no justification for up-listing polar bears to ‘threatened status’ under the U.S. Endangered Species Act … "at this point in time, there is not enough information to say that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct due to predicted shift in climate … Due to our close relationship with these populations, we, along with other user groups, would be the first to see signs of trouble and we would make sure, through the co-management system, that appropriate management actions are taken to ensure the sustainability of these populations."
January 4, 2007
Mr. President, I rise today to address the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s recent action to begin formal consideration of whether to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Over the next year, the Fish and Wildlife Service will examine scientific and commercial data regarding the health of the polar bear population and evaluate the presence of any threats to its existence. The question that the Fish and Wildlife Service must answer is: Is there clear, scientific evidence that current worldwide polar bear populations are in trouble and facing possible extinction in the foreseeable future? As the Fish and Wildlife Service reviews the issue over the next year, I feel confident they will conclude as I have, that listing the polar bear is unwarranted. In the proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that for seven of the 19 worldwide polar bear populations, the Service has no population trend data of any kind. Other data suggest that for an additional five polar bear populations, the number of bears is not declining and is stable. Two more of the bear populations showed reduced numbers in the past due to over hunting, but these two populations are now increasing because of hunting restrictions.
Unless you've been hibernating for the winter, you have no doubt heard the many alarms about global warming. Now even the Bush Administration is getting into the act, at least judging from last week's decision by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to recommend that the majestic polar bear be listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. The closer you inspect this decision, however, the more it looks like the triumph of politics over science. "We are concerned," said Mr. Kempthorne, that "the polar bears' habitat may literally be melting" due to warmer Arctic temperatures. However, when we called Interior spokesman Hugh Vickery for some elaboration, he was a lot less categorical, even a tad defensive. The "endangered" designation is based less on the actual number of bears in Alaska than on "projections into the future," Mr. Vickery said, adding that these "projection models" are "tricky business."