Groups Seeking Polar Bear Listing to Sue Bush Administration

WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2008 (ENS) – Three environmental groups today said they will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to make a decision about whether or not to place the polar bear on the federal Endangered Species List by this coming Wednesday. To survive, polar bears must contend with shrinking sea ice, toxic contamination and petroleum development.

Today the Service said it is “working diligently to reach a final decision” about listing the bear as threatened but will not have made the determination by Wednesday. “We expect to provide a final recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior and finalize the decision within the next month,” the Service said.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and Greenpeace say they will begin legal action Wednesday

“We certainly hope that the polar bear will be listed within the next month. But this is an administration of broken promises, from Bush’s campaign pledge to regulate greenhouse gases to Secretary Kempthorne’s failure to list a single species under the Endangered Species Act in the last 607 days,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Polar bear on Arctic sea
ice (Photo courtesy MMS)

The Endangered Species Act requires a listing process of no longer than two years, but in this case almost three years have passed since the scientific petition was submitted in February 2005, calling on the government to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.

The groups sued the Bush administration in December 2005, when it missed its first deadline.

Responding to the suit in February, 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that protection of polar bears “may be warranted,” and began a full status review of the species.

On December 27, 2006, the Service announced its proposal to list the species as “threatened” and had one year to make a final listing decision. The legal deadline for doing so is January 9, 2008.

“The polar bear needs a lifeline,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Endangered Species Project at NRDC. “Urgent action is required by our government. Polar bears’ very existence is already threatened by environmental disaster, and they also face toxic contamination and habitat destruction from oil and gas development. The administration’s endless delay is outrageous and unwarranted.”

The Service says it is working as fast as it can in light of new information received in September 2007 and public comments on that information.

“When the polar bear was proposed for listing in January 2007, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne directed the Service to work with the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, the public and the scientific community to broaden our understanding of what is happening with the polar bear and to gather additional information to inform the final decision on whether the species warrants federal protection under the ESA [Endangered Species Act], the Service said today.

“In September 2007, USGS scientists supplied new research findings to the Service updating population information on the Southern Bering Sea polar bear and providing additional data on sea ice trends and effects on polar bear populations throughout the species’ range.

As a result of the new USGS research findings, the Service reopened and later extended a second comment period to allow the public time to review the information and respond. “We received numerous comments on the USGS reports and have been working to analyze and respond to the information provided during the comment period,” the Service said.

To date, the government has received more than 500,000 comments in support of protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, including letters from eminent polar bear experts, climate scientists, and more than 60 members of Congress, a record number of public comments in support of an Endangered Species Act listing, the environmental groups say.

But the groups do not view the number of comments as justification for further delay in issuing a determination.

“The Bush administration has squandered seven years denying the devastating scientific evidence of global warming,” said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace USA. “Stalling has cost us dearly, putting the polar bear at risk of extinction and jeopardizing the future welfare of billions of people around the world. This further unjustified delay is emblematic of the administration’s approach.”

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