Alaska Wants To Delist Polar Bears From Threatened Status
August 30, 2011

Alaska Wants To Delist Polar Bears From Threatened Status


The state of Alaska is planning on appealing a judge's ruling that continues to list the polar bear as a threatened species.

The state said in a notice filed on Friday that the bears have successfully survived past climate changes.

The U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan upheld the threatened species status of polar bears in June after the state of Alaska sued the federal government in 2008 over the Bush administration's decision to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.

The listing was based on a warning by the Department of the Interior that warming of the Arctic climate and the melting of sea ice was threatening the polar bear's habitat.

Governor Sean Parnell said the world population of polar bears has grown from a low of between 8,000 and 10,000 in the late 1960s to the current count of about 20,000 to 25,000.

"The Endangered Species Act was not intended for species that are healthy with populations that have more than doubled in the last 40 years," Parnell said.

Organizations that oppose the listing along with the state include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and a hunting group, Safari Club International.

Reuters reported that the state and oil companies have argued that the Endangered Species Act protection for polar bears diminishes opportunities for Alaska energy development.

Some estimates of the global population are around 5,000 to 10,000 in the early 1970s, while other estimates were 20,000 to 40,000 during the 1980s.  Current global estimates put the bear population between 20,000 and 25,000.

Many say the population trends of polar bears may not be accurate because estimates from the 1950s and 1960s were based on stories from explorers and hunters and not scientific surveys.

Some say that controlling the hunting for polar bears helped the species recover, but they are still under climate change threat.

Climate models project summer sea ice will be gone by mid-century, and possibly by as soon as 2030. 

Rosa Meehan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) marine mammals manager in Alaska, said recovery plans traditionally have dealt with a very specific threat that causes habitat loss.

"We don't have that," she told the Associated Press. "We're dealing with a projected change and it's not 'a' directed feature, it's this climate change that all of us ... is in some way contributing to."

She said that figuring out how much greenhouse gas melts what amount of ice, and how that equates to an effect on a particular bear, would require impossible connections.

"At the end of the day, you can't say, 'Well, someone driving an SUV down in California on the highways is going to make polar bear cub 'A' live two years less," Meehan told the news agency. "There's just too many huge steps in there to make those direct connections."

Wildlife managers are focusing on what they can control instead, like assessing the condition of polar bear populations through habitat and demographic reviews. 

The agency said they have no hard deadline for the recovery plan but will present a draft at an October meeting with other polar bear countries.


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