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Polar bear now listed as threatened species

This is a decision that the Bush Administration has been loath to take. With its denial of Global warming having come down slightly (but not significantly enough to take some serious steps), the administration was actually ordered by a US District Judge to take a decision on the status of the polar bear by May 15 (after it failed to take a decision by January 9 earlier this year). The Government was sued to decide on this case, the first case to study the impact of global warming on the habitat of a species (the impact of the habitat change would cause a reduction of 2/3rd of the current population of polar bears in the next 50 years). The polar bear is a well known species, and this helped in forcing a focus on the impact of global warming (even though there would be many other smaller species that would already be significantly affected by global warming). However, even though the announcement by the Interior Secretary did state that the polar bear would be listed as a ‘threatened’ species under the Endangered Species Act, there was a clarification (or hope) to the extent that this change should not be seen as vindicating the studies of climate change and global warming.

“Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears. But it should not open the door to use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources,” said Kempthorne. “That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the ESA law. The ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy.” Controversy over the status of the polar bear is tied to the fact that this is the first time a species has been considered for listing specifically because its habitat is threatened by global warming.
USGS scientist Steve Amstrup, who has studied polar bears for nearly 30 years, explained why the sea ice can mean life or death for polar bears. Amstrup spoke to CNN in March. “A lot of people don’t understand how polar bears live. They are not terrestrial animals. They spend very little time on land. They spend most of their time on sea ice, this cap of ice that is floating around on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. It is on that surface of the ice that they have adapted ways of catching seals that are their principal prey. “These seals are kind of like giant ‘fat pills’ that have allowed polar bears to become the largest of the bears and to expand across the range of the sea ice. As that sea ice declines, you can think of it as a decline in the carrying capacity of polar bears, just as if you took a field that supported a certain number of cattle, for example, and plowed up half the field and there was no longer grass there, you’ve lost the carrying capacity for half the animals that live out there,” said Amstrup.

Most environmentalists and people concerned about climate change have already given up the Bush Administration as a lost cause, and are waiting for the next President to take the initiative and have America lead from the front in how to confront global warming. As a traditional leader in science and technology and innovation, as well as being the world’s largest polluter, it is incumbent on the United States to take the lead in combating global warming.

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