In­te­rior Re­viewed Stud­ies Weigh­ing Risks to Po­lar Bear

Ef­fort Pre­ceded Pro­tec­tion Pro­posal

The Washington Post Sunday - - National News - By Juliet Eilperin

In­te­rior De­part­ment of­fi­cials — who have main­tained for months that they did not an­a­lyze how hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties were af­fect­ing Arc­tic warm­ing and en­dan­ger­ing po­lar bears’ sur­vival — com­pleted a re­view ex­am­in­ing stud­ies of this very sub­ject less than a week be­fore propos­ing that the gov­ern­ment list the bears as threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion, ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment’s own doc­u­ments.

The “ Range-Wide Sta­tus Re­view of the Po­lar Bear,” which is posted on a gov­ern­ment Web site, was com­pleted six days be­fore Sec­re­tary Dirk Kempthorne pro­posed adding po­lar bears to the en­dan­gered species list on Dec. 27. It cites sev­eral stud­ies on how green­house gas emis­sions are af­fect­ing the Arc­tic, and how cuts in car­bon diox­ide could slow the pace of warm­ing there. None of those ci­ta­tions made it into the de­part­ment’s fi­nal list­ing pro­posal.

One sec­tion, for ex­am­ple, refers to a 2005 study by NASA sci­en­tist James E. Hansen that sug­gests “ the warm­ing trend would change con­sid­er­ably if ac­tions were taken soon enough to keep the at­mo­spheric gases from in­creas­ing.” By con­trast, the list­ing pro­posal omits this line and says that when it comes to cli­mate change in the Arc­tic, “ there are few, if any, pro­cesses that are ca­pa­ble of al­ter­ing this tra­jec­tory.”

Kieran Suck­ling, pol­icy di­rec­tor for the ad­vo­cacy group Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, said the edit­ing high­lights the ex­tent to which the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­der­play­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween cli­mate change and the po­lar bear’s predica­ment.

“ At ev­ery sin­gle turn the ad­min­is­tra­tion has sup­pressed science on po­lar bears and global warm­ing, so while this is in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing, it’s not sur­pris­ing,” Suck­ling said. “ They’re deeply afraid the En­dan­gered Species Act will cre­ate a clear reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ment to limit green­house gas emis­sions.”

In late De­cem­ber, Kempthorne and other of­fi­cials said they be­lieved po­lar bears de­served fed­eral pro­tec­tion be­cause the sea ice they de­pend on is dis­ap­pear­ing as Arc­tic tem­per­a­tures rise. How­ever, Kempthorne em­pha­sized at a press con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the list­ing that his de­part­ment did not ex­am­ine the con­nec­tion be­tween global warm­ing and shrink­ing sea ice.

“ While the pro­posal to list the species as threat­ened cites the threat of re­ced­ing sea ice, it does not in­clude a sci­en­tific anal­y­sis of the causes of cli­mate change,” he said in his open­ing state­ment. “ That anal­y­sis is be­yond the scope of the En­dan­gered Species Act re­view process, which fo­cuses on in­for­ma­tion about the po­lar bear and its habi­tat con­di­tions in­clud­ing sea ice.”

But the sta­tus re­view linked hu­man- gen­er­ated emis­sions to Arc­tic cli­mate change on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and even an­a­lyzed whether dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment poli­cies were help­ing ame­lio­rate the prob­lem. One sec­tion, ti­tled “ Mech­a­nisms to Reg­u­late Cli­mate Change,” refers to the Ky­oto Pro­to­col and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s aim of re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions and sug­gests that nei­ther pol­icy is suf­fi­cient. Ac­cord­ing to one doc­u­ment cited, Ky­oto’s re­quire­ment that de­vel­oped coun­tries re­duce their emis­sions by 5 per­cent com­pared with 1990 lev­els “ would only make a small con­tri­bu­tion to sta­bi­liz­ing the lev­els of emis­sions in the at­mos­phere.”

That lan­guage was omit­ted from the fi­nal list­ing pro­posal, which in­stead has a sec­tion called “ Mech­a­nisms to Reg­u­late Sea Ice Re­ces­sion” with the sen­tence, “ There are no known reg­u­la­tory mech­a­nisms ef­fec­tively ad­dress­ing re­duc­tions in sea ice habi­tat at this time.”

H. Dale Hall, who di­rects the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, said in an in­ter­view that the sta­tus re­view amounted to “ a lit­er­a­ture search” in which the au­thors cited stud­ies with­out as­sess­ing their va­lid­ity.

“ There’s not a qual­ity test when you’re do­ing a sta­tus re­view,” Hall said. “ It’s not our anal­y­sis.”

Hall added that if the po­lar bear makes it onto the en­dan­gered species list, then his agency would ask cli­mate sci­en­tists about ad­dress­ing global warm­ing: “ We would ask, ‘ Is there any­thing that could be done in the next 45 years that could keep it from be­com­ing en­dan­gered?’ ”


A po­lar bear rests with her cubs on the ice in the Beau­fort Sea in north­ern Alaska. Shrink­ing sea ice, blamed on Arc­tic warm­ing, threat­ens the bears.

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