Polar bears are in deep trouble. Without help, more than two-thirds of these amazing animals, including all the polar bears in Alaska, will likely be gone by 2050 -- driven off the planet by diminishing sea ice.
So it boggles the mind that the Obama administration recently announced plans to reissue a Bush-era regulation that sharply limits protections for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.
Unless the public speaks out forcefully, the regulation will go into effect -- and that could be the last straw for this magnificent species.
President Obama's "Polar Bear Extinction Plan" has a disturbing history. It was a sobering but also promising moment in 2008 when polar bears were the first species added to the threatened species list solely because of threats from global warming.
The bear's new status meant that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to provide measures for the animal's conservation. It's not rocket science to conclude that if polar bears are to survive we have to start reducing greenhouse gas pollution to slow the warming and melting of the Arctic.
It wasn't too surprising that the Bush administration, which opposed any regulation of greenhouse gases, grudgingly acknowledged that polar bears are in deep trouble and yet refused to address the very thing that threatens their survival: greenhouse gas pollution. It did this by issuing a "special rule" that gave the polar bear fewer protections than other species and specifically exempted greenhouse gas emissions from important Endangered Species Act programs that would have helped reduce them.
Last fall, a federal judge found that the rule was illegal because the Fish and Wildlife Service hadn't considered the environmental consequences of the decision. The judge told the agency it must re-consider the issue.
And now the Obama administration has just proposed reissuing the exact same Bush rule: It acknowledges that polar bears are listed under the Endangered Species Act because of global warming but then prevents action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the name of saving polar bears.
It makes no sense. A conservation plan that blocks the very actions needed to save polar bears is no conservation plan at all: it's an extinction plan.
And adopting nonsensical Bush decisions as his own to avoid addressing the climate crisis is not the change President Obama promised.
There is very little time left to save polar bears. But there is hope. We know what needs to be done, we have the technology to reduce emissions, and we already have strong, successful laws on the books that can make it happen.
But the government needs to stop dreaming up excuses for delay and instead get to work. Convincing the Fish and Wildlife Service to drop this misguided extinction plan for polar bears and replace it with a rule that provides for real conservation is an important step. The public has two months to let the agency know what it thinks -- you can get more info and submit comments here.
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