May 15, 2008

Facing reality, finally

Posted by: Julia Swan

Yesterday, the Interior Department announced its decision to list the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. This action came as a result of intense lobbying from environmentalist groups, recommendations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a court order from a federal judge to make an immediate decision, and overwhelming evidence that the Arctic sea ice on which polar bears hunt and live is rapidly disappearing.

Although the polar bear is the first species to be granted federal protections because of global warming, the repercussions of the decision on entities that contribute to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere remains to be determined. At this point, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has stated that the polar bear decision will not impact regulation laws, oil exploration, or other activities that can contribute to global warming.
As for the remaining 20,000-25,000 polar bears currently living in the Arctic, the designation of threatened species status upon the largest living land carnivore on earth is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Perhaps the polar bear will join the list of dozens of other once-threatened species that, through concerted human efforts to protect and preserve, have experience a major revival.

- Julia

Photo top left: A polar bear sow and her cubs on the tundra (coastal area, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), photograph by Steven Kazlowski/www.lefteyepro.com. On view in The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World, June 28 – Dec. 31, 2008, Burke Museum, Seattle.

Photo bottom right: Sow with cub on the pack ice of the frozen coastal plain (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), photograph by Steven Kazlowski/www.lefteyepro.com. On view in The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World, June 28 – Dec. 31, 2008, Burke Museum, Seattle.




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