Like so many of the bad decisions coming out of the Bush Administration, Polar Bear protection is no exception. The Administration came kicking and screaming to the decision to finally list the Polar Bear as a threatened species deserving protections under the Endangered Species Act. However, the listing came with strings attached. The exemptions the administration made with the listing virtually guarantee the habitat the Polar Bears need to survive will be compromised and so too the Polar Bears recovery.
In a recent report by the US Geological Survey, scientist estimate that 2/3 of the world’s current Polar Bear population could be lost by the year 2050 due to melting sea ice caused by global warming. In Alaska, the Polar Bear could disappear forever.
Despite the consequences for the Polar Bear, the administration has gone head long into selling off the Polar Bear habitat for oil and gas drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas (known as the Polar Bear seas). If that’s not enough, the US Fish and Wildlife Agency gave a blank check to these companies by providing legal protections if “small numbers” of polar bears or walruses are incidentally harmed or killed by exploration activities over the next five years.
The Polar Bear population is already under stress from global warming resulting in starvation, drowning, cannibalism, and reproduction problems. Oil drilling and exploration will add additional stressors on the population with seismic activities, development, and pollution. Polar Bears are naturally curious creatures and will likely explore the oil drilling activities –putting them further in harms way. Another negative consequence is the potential for oil spills. Currently, there is no known effective method to treat oil spills in the harsh environment of the arctic especially during periods of solid and broken ice.
We know that species are twice as likely to recover if their habitat is protected. What we need to know now is more about the impact oil drilling and exploration will have on Polar Bears. Let’s stop selling off leases to big oil companies before we know what the consequences of these actions will be on the Polar Bear and the entire marine ecosystem. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced to do just that: the Polar Bear Seas Protection Act.
To learn more visit:
H.R.6057: Polar Bear Seas Protection Act, sponsored by Congressman Jay Inslee,
S. 2568: Companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Senator John Kerry
For more on the Polar Bear listing, check out this video: