Policy Experts Reject
Proposal to List Polar Bears as
But populations are rising in
Written By: Diane Carol Bast
Published In: Environment News
Publication Date: February 1, 2007
Publisher: The Heartland Institute
U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk
Kempthorne proposed on December 27 that
polar bears be listed as a "threatened"
species, not because their populations
are currently in decline but because
global warming may threaten them in the
Kempthorne's proposal came in
response to a lawsuit filed by
environmental groups against the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service. A final
decision on the listing will be made in
December 2007, after a 12-month period
of public comment and scientific review.
"Polar bears are one of nature's
ultimate survivors, able to live and
thrive in one of the world's harshest
environments," Kempthorne said. "But we
are concerned the polar bear's habitat
may literally be melting." He cited
thinning sea ice caused by global
warming as the main threat to the bears.
The Center for Biological Diversity,
Natural Resources Defense Council, and
Greenpeace filed suit against the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on
December 15, 2005, after the agency
failed to respond to petitions the
groups had filed earlier in the year to
seek protection for the polar bears
under the Endangered Species Act.
According to the World Wildlife Fund,
about 22,000 polar bears exist worldwide
in 20 distinct populations. The group
acknowledges on its Web site that "the
species is not currently endangered,"
but it expresses concern that the bears'
"future is far from certain" because the
bears are not protected "against the
biggest man-made threat to their
survival: global warming."
Dr. David Legates, Delaware state
climatologist and director of the Center
for Climatic Research at the University
of Delaware, has analyzed the WWF data
and notes they "do not show a
temperature-linked decline." In a May
2006 study for the National Center for
Policy Analysis, Legates noted,
- "Only two of the distinct bear
populations--accounting for about 16.4
percent of the total number of
bears--are decreasing, and they are in
areas where air temperatures have
actually fallen, such as the Baffin
- "Ten populations--comprising about
45.4 percent of the total number of
bears --are stable.
- "Another two populations--about
13.6 percent of the total number--are
growing, and they live in areas were
air temperatures have risen, such as
near the Bering Strait and the Chukchi
Policy Experts React "The
proposed listing of polar bears as a
threatened species demonstrates the
absurd lengths to which environmental
activists will go regarding their global
warming obsession," noted James M.
Taylor, managing editor of
Environment & Climate News and The
Heartland Institute's senior fellow for
"Many times in recent history Arctic
temperatures have been warmer than they
are today," Taylor noted. "Temperatures
were warmer 800 years ago during the
Medieval Climate Optimum and 2,000 years
ago during the Roman Climate Optimum. If
polar bears did not go extinct then,
when temperatures were warmer, how are
they in imminent danger of extinction
The Center for Biological Diversity
noted in the December 15, 2005 news
release announcing its lawsuit, "If
today's lawsuit is successful, polar
bears could become the first mammal to
be officially declared at risk due to
Chris Horner, a Competitive
Enterprise Institute senior fellow
specializing in legal-climate issues,
expressed skepticism. "We might inquire
where to draw the line," Horner said.
"If it makes sense to list thriving
species, let's just call it the 'cute
species list,' or just 'species list.'"
Prompting ESA Reform?
Nicole Haynes McCoy, an assistant
professor in the Department of
Environment and Society at Utah State
University, suggested Kempthorne's
proposal might prompt Endangered Species
"If conservative elected officials
are serious about getting the Endangered
Species Act reformed, listing the polar
bear is a great way to incentivize the
process," McCoy said.
"The sacrifices that will be required
of the American public to reduce
greenhouse gases in order to protect
polar bear habitat will bring key
problems of the ESA to the forefront of
the American consciousness," McCoy
predicted. "Once you start asking
Americans to pay more for power,
transportation, and food to maybe save a
species, that might be in decline, you
are asking for trouble."
Diane Carol Bast (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is vice president of The Heartland
Institute and executive editor of
Environment & Climate News.