Polar bear rule falls short of safeguarding threatened species

New rule means adequate protections still not offered to polar bears; Bush administration refuses to tackle global warming implications

(05/20/2008) - WASHINGTON – Defenders of Wildlife announced today that it will file suit to ensure that the polar bear, which was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on May 14, receives the full protections that it needs to survive. Though encouraging, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) recent decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the ESA includes a rule that negates the usual protections provided by the ESA, leaving the bear without new safeguards to address its threatened status.

“We are forced to challenge this rule because it undermines vital protections provided by the Endangered Species Act that the polar bear needs to survive,” said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen. “Time is of the essence for the polar bear. While its habitat is melting away, the Bush administration continues to put blockades in the way of its possible survival.”

FWS’s issuance of an “interim final” rule under Section 4(d) of the ESA means that the polar bear will not receive all of the legal protections needed to ensure the bear’s survival. The 4(d) rule also undermines the integrity of the ESA, the nation’s most important wildlife protection law. Defenders of Wildlife has filed a 60-day notice letter on May 16th, 2008 with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne informing him of its intent to challenge the legality of the 4(d) rule in court.

Listing polar bears as threatened under the ESA should help protect polar bear habitat from threats such as oil and gas development, which the Bush administration is aggressively pursuing in the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska, and has even proposed in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which provides the primary land denning habitat for the polar bear. Instead, the administration has made it clear with its 4(d) rule that the ESA will not provide any additional protections from these activities than those that already exist under the MMPA, and will provide no protection whatsoever against emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing the rise in global temperatures that directly threaten the polar bear.

Specifically, the 4(d) rule eliminates some of the necessary protections for the polar bear and its habitat under the ESA, based on the incorrect assertion that the polar bear is already adequately protected under other laws, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Furthermore, the rule states that the ESA’s protections against “incidental take” – death or harm to polar bears caused by human activities such as oil and gas development – do not apply at all outside of Alaska. The FWS failed to give the public any notice or opportunity to comment before enacting the rule the same day that the polar bear listing was announced.

“Frankly, this rule makes a mockery of the Endangered Species Act and of the public comment process,” said Schlickeisen. “Only the Bush administration, with its longstanding resistance to taking any responsible action against global warming, would think of a stunt like this – to finally admit that the science compels listing the polar bear as threatened by global warming, but at the exact same moment strip it of the protections the Endangered Species Act should provide against its loss of habitat from global warming. It’s shameful.”


The polar bear is the largest of the world’s bear species and is distributed among nineteen Arctic subpopulations – two of which, the Chukchi and the Southern Beaufort Sea populations, are located within the United States.

Polar bears are threatened with extinction from global warming, which is melting the Arctic sea ice where polar bears hunt for ringed and bearded seals, their primary food source.

The U.S. Geological Survey published a series of reports predicting that loss of summer sea ice—crucial habitat for polar bears—could lead to the demise of two-thirds of the world’s polar bears by mid-century, including all of Alaska’s polar bears.

Learn more about what Defenders is doing to help the polar bear.

Read the Notice of Intent to Sue Letter.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.





Erin McCallum, (202)772-3217
Cat Lazaroff, (202)772-3270