Defenders in Action: Salazar Helps Some Species, Leaves Polar Bear Adrift

Polar Bears, © Jenny E. Ross/

© Jenny E. Ross/
Dozens of conservation organizations, hundreds of biologists and tens of thousands of citizens applauded the Obama administration's decision in April to turn back the clock on an 11th-hour Bush attempt to undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Except, when the smoke cleared, the polar bear's future was still in peril.

Federal agencies are once again required to consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service before taking any action that could adversely affect threatened or endangered species. The Bush administration had weakened this consultation process mandated under the ESA before leaving office. But, in a separate decision, the incoming Interior Department let slip a chance to ensure that threatened polar bears receive all the protections they need.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar let stand the Bush administration decision to exempt human activities that cause greenhouse gas pollution, such as carbon dioxide from industrial plants, from ever being considered a violation of the ESA as long as the activities are outside the bears' range. Polar bears depend on sea ice to hunt but their habitat is melting because of global warming. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the loss of summer sea ice could lead to the demise of two-thirds of the world's polar bears by mid-century, including all of Alaska's polar bears.

"We're very disappointed that Secretary Salazar decided not to cut through the red tape and restore protections for polar bears immediately," says Defenders' executive vice president Jamie Rappaport Clark. "The polar bear's Arctic sea ice habitat is melting away, the arctic seals which polar bears hunt for food are becoming increasingly scarce, and the cause is clearly global warming. In spite of this, Secretary Salazar is leaving in place a rule that says activities that cause global warming and therefore harm polar bears will never be considered violations of the Endangered Species Act under any circumstances.  That made no sense under the Bush administration and it certainly makes no sense for the Obama administration."

Defenders will challenge this decision in court. Learn more about Defenders' efforts to protect the polar bear

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