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Polar Bears On Thin Ice, Listed As ‘Threatened’

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced that he is listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, saying that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat.

This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future.In making the announcement, Kempthorne said, “I am also announcing that this listing decision will be accompanied by administrative guidance and a rule that defines the scope of impact my decision will have, in order to protect the polar bear while limiting the unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States.”

Kempthorne further stated, “While the legal standards under the ESA compel me to list the polar bear as threatened, I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting. Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective. That is why I am taking administrative and regulatory action to make certain the ESA isn’t abused to make global warming policies.”

In September 2007, the USGS delivered to the Fish and Wildlife Service nine studies related to the future condition of the polar bear and its habitat.

Kempthorne illustrated the listing decision with charts depicting satellite images of the differences in sea ice from the fall of 1979 to the fall of 2007. Last year, Arctic sea ice fell to the lowest level ever recorded by satellite, 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. The amount of sea ice loss in years 2002-2007 exceeded all previous record lows.

In developing the nine studies it delivered to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS relied upon 10 peer-reviewed climate models, all of which project a decline in Arctic sea ice in the future. In particular, the models project declines in September sea ice of more than 30 percent by the middle of the 21st century. Four of the 10 models project declines in September sea ice in excess of 80 percent by the mid -21st century. Seven of the 10 models show a 97 percent loss in September sea ice by the end of the 21st century.

Based on actual observations of trends in sea ice over the past three decades, these models may actually understate the extent and change rate of projected sea ice loss.

The proposed ESA special 4(d) rule is available for a 60 day public comment period.

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