December 30, 2010

Polar Bears Aren’t Desperate Enough to be “Endangered”

Originally written by Beth Wright and published on New Era News : a political site for young people.

We have all seen those cute but sad photos of fuzzy white bears stranded on lone icebergs being used by environmental conservationists groups to create more awareness of climate change. But, the current administration has decided that the heart-wrenching photos aren’t enough and they have decided to stick with a Bush-era policy regarding the bears. They will remain on the “threatened” list, but are not qualified to be considered “endangered” – at least not yet.

Animals were technically allowed to start being considered endangered and threatened after 1973 when the Endangered Species Act (ESA) passed. The ESA provides programs for the conservation of threatened and endangered animals, plants and their environments. There are two main agencies for acting on the ESA program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(FWS) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service.

From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website the laws required of the federal agencies (along with the FWS and the NOAA) are ” to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modifications of designated critical habitat of such species.”

So, basically once an animal or plant makes the list, anyone acting in a way that kills or harms the environment of that animal or plant will probably get a steep fine and a strong talking to by the federal government.

The Denver Post reported that the FWS Director Rowan Gould said the 2008 “threatened” listing was made “following careful analysis of the best scientific information, as required by the ESA.” The Denver Post goes on to say that at the time it was determined that polar bears weren’t in danger of extinction and therefore weren’t qualified for the “endangered” status.

But, they are still considered threatened because of the serious issues their environment faces with the projected decline in their sea ice habitat. The U.S. Geological Survey projects that two thirds of polar bears will disappear by 2050 according to the National Wildlife Federation. The NWF goes on to explain how global warming has caused a rapid decrease in the amount of sea ice habitats, which the polar bear uses in order to catch seals – it’s main source of food. The lowland areas which have no ice in the summer are going iceless for longer and longer each year, making hunting and reproduction increasingly more difficult for the bears.

Even though there is some evidence that the polar bear populations are expected to decrease in large numbers within the next century, to the federal government, the bears still don’t meet certain criteria to be deemed endangered. If the administration had allowed for the polar bears to climb on to the list of endangered species, it could have opened the gates for the ESA to administer programs for regulating greenhouse gases as it is the largest contributor to the threatened habitat of the polar bears.

But, as The Denver Post put it, this is “an outcome the Obama administration has opposed.”

Unfortunately, regulating greenhouse gases and increasing federal actions to prevent climate change aren’t short term nor cheap projects. With billions of dollars in debt and a lackluster economy, saving polar bears probably isn’t a top priority for the U.S. government at the moment.

One thing is for sure though. Al Gore has got to feel quite a blow to the head with this decision. But, if scientific researchers are right, the polar bears will have a much easier chance of getting on the endangered species list next year, and an even stronger chance the year after that!

Originally written by Beth Wright and published on New Era News : a political site for young people.

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