Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Looking North: Polar Bears' survival under the Endangered Species Act

I was just reading in Newsweek about the listing of polar bears as a "threatened" species as defined by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As the Arctic sea ice melts, as I saw last year on an expedition through the Northwest Passage with, it's a step in the right direction - but a very small step to many environmentalists. If listed as "endangered", the ESA requires the government to preserve critical habitat and develop a recovery plan. In essence that means what is specifically endangering the species - a dam or construction project, or excessive hunting/fishing - must be dealt with.

This put the current administration in the uncomfortable position of having to recognize and address the issue that is jeopardizing the future of polar bears if they were designated as "endangered": global warming. The Interior Department agrees that the polar bear is threatened by climate change, but it hedged its bet with the "threatened" designation which is a less proactive designation. Unfortunately, this adds to the current administration's dismal record on species protection - only 60 species have received protection, compared to 522 in the two-term Clinton administration and 231 in the elder Bush's one-year term.

We find ourselves back to some fundamental questions: what are we going to do about these long-term environmental issues? Where is the forward-thinking, visionary leadership that can address the interests of the people, commerce, and most importantly, the planet's species?

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