Group Seeks Protection for Polar Bears
ANCHORAGE, Alaska A conservation group filed a formal petition Wednesday seeking to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, saying global warming could make it extinct by the end of the century.
The Arctic sea ice habitat polar bears use for feeding, mating and maternity denning is breaking up earlier each spring and forming later in the autumn, said Kassie Siegel, lead author of the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity.
She said the United States must soon reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a fraction of current levels. She supports higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles as one answer.
The petition sets off a 90-day review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an evaluation of whether further study is warranted, said Rosa Meehan, chief of the agency's marine mammal management program.
Alaska has two populations of polar bears, Meehan said. She said the Beaufort Sea stock off Alaska's northern coast, estimated at 2,000 animals, is stable or increasing.
Less is known about the Bering-Chukchi stock off Alaska's northwest coast, where the population is shared with Russia. A 1998 estimate put their numbers at 2,000 to 5,000.
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 22,000 to 25,000 polar bears worldwide.
The petition calls global warming the primary threat to polar bears. Shorter periods of sea ice give polar bears less time to hunt their primary source of food, ringed seals, Siegel said.
Other threats the petition lists include Arctic oil and gas development and overhunting of some populations in Canada, Greenland and Russia. In the United States, the Marine Mammal Protection Act provides for unlimited harvest by subsistence hunters.
Listing under the Endangered Species Act would provide broad protection to polar bears, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that government actions not "jeopardize the continued existence" of polar bears, or adversely modify their critical habitat.
Source: Associated Press