Polar Bear Rule Leaves Threatened Species Vulnerable

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Washington, D.C. (Feb. 20, 2013)-The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a decision on polar bear protection under the Endangered Species Act, which contains extensive deficiencies and leaves the polar bear vulnerable to numerous threats.

First, the decision precludes the consideration of climate change and carbon emissions when assessing impacts to the bear, a provision that essentially renders the ESA protection under Section 7 of the act useless. In 2008, FWS issued an “interim final” rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act that contained the same provision, prompting a lawsuit by several environmental organizations. “We had hoped that the Obama administration would acknowledge the threat of climate change to polar bears, and take steps to address it,” said Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Instead, we’re disappointed to see that Bush-era policies are still hindering polar bear conservation five years later.”

The new rule further limits ESA protection against harm to the polar bear and its habitat, incorrectly asserting that the bear is already adequately protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and other laws. The rule also states that protection from “incidental take,”—meaning harm, harassment or death caused by human activities— don’t apply outside of the state of Alaska.

“Polar bears are struggling to survive in a changing climate and they need every protection possible,” said Clark. “We need to take bold steps to help these animals before it’s too late. This rule simply doesn’t measure up.”

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