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Bush administration finalizes rule; blocks crucial polar bear protections

Rule refuses to tackle global warming implications, ignores science and common sense

(12/11/2008) -  WASHINGTON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today that it will deny the polar bear the appropriate and necessary protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“This rule makes a mockery of the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s most important wildlife protection law,” said Defenders of Wildlife executive vice president, Jamie Rappaport Clark. “The polar bear doesn’t have time for political maneuvers. Its habitat is melting away, its food is becoming scarce and the science is clear that the cause is global warming - yet the rule this administration released today affirms that little will be done to save the species from sure extinction.”

Defenders of Wildlife has already filed suit in federal court contesting the legality of a previous, “interim final” version of this rule, and will challenge this new final rule as well to ensure that the polar bear, which was listed as “threatened” under the ESA on May 14, 2008 receives the full protections that other species receive under the ESA.

“We are forced to challenge this rule because it denies vital protections to the polar bear that it needs to survive,” said Clark.

Listing polar bears as threatened should help protect polar bear habitat from threats such as oil and gas development, which the Bush administration is aggressively pursuing in the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska and has even proposed in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which provides the primary land denning habitat for the species. Instead, the administration has made it clear with its 4(d) rule that the ESA will not provide any additional protections from these and other harmful activities than those that already exist under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and will provide no protection whatsoever against emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing the rise in global temperatures that directly threaten the polar bear.

Specifically, the 4(d) rule eliminates some of the necessary protections for the polar bear and its habitat under the ESA, based on the incorrect assertion that the polar bear is already adequately protected under other laws, such as the MMPA. Furthermore, the rule states that the ESA’s protections against “incidental take” – death or harm to polar bears caused by human activities such as oil and gas development – do not apply at all if those activities occur outside of Alaska.

“It’s really not surprising that the Bush administration, with its longstanding resistance to taking any responsible action against global warming, would think of a stunt like this in its waning days in office” said Clark. “To finally admit that the science compels the listing of the polar bear as threatened due to global warming, but then deny it the protections the Endangered Species Act should provide is nothing other than irresponsible and shameful."


The polar bear is the largest of the world’s bear species and is distributed among nineteen Arctic subpopulations – two of which, the Chukchi and the Southern Beaufort Sea populations, are located within the United States.

Polar bears are threatened with extinction from global warming, which is melting the Arctic sea ice where polar bears hunt for ringed and bearded seals, their primary food source.

The U.S. Geological Survey published a series of reports predicting that loss of summer sea ice—crucial habitat for polar bears—could lead to the demise of two-thirds of the world’s polar bears by mid-century, including all of Alaska’s polar bears.

View final 4(d) rule here

Learn more about Defenders' work on polar bears.



Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit




Erin McCallum, (202)772-3217

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