Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Thursday's Polar Bear decision is important to all of us


I never understood the "Save the Polar Bear, Save the World" slogan until tonight.

As posted earlier the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which reports to Bush's Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne has been stalling the decision on the status of polar bears. Well that is all changed. Environmental groups have sued and won. A federal court has ordered the Fish & Wildlife committee to make their ruling by Thursday this week.

Kempthorne, who previously served as a Senator for six years and scored 1% on the League of Conservation Voters' legislative scorecards, obviously became Bush's first choice for Secretary of the Interior in 2006. The Secretary of the Interior is similar to our Minister of the Environment. The most obvious reason for so desperately stalling the release of the report (last meeting postponed because the head of committee didn't show up), since the fall could quite possibly be that the Polar Bear is now on their endangered species list.

A US endangered species status means:
Such a listing for polar bears would commit the U.S. to not doing anything that could threaten the species further. Because the main threat to the bears is considered to be habitat loss from climate change, that could make it tougher to sell fuels that produce a higher amount of greenhouse gases, such as oil derived from Alberta's oil sands.

"U.S. programs, policies and financial measures involving the U.S. government that would further jeopardize the survival of polar bears would come under extremely strong scrutiny,'' Ewins said. "Further increases in greenhouse gases, causing the sea ice to melt, would be deemed as clearly in contravention of the Endangered Species Act.'' from CTV here.
Meanwhile Canada's government has been quietly keeping the Polar Pear off of our Endangered list also and for similar reasons. The Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as it's name explains is responsible for status in Canada. They have five designations starting with i. Not at Risk, ii. Special Concern iii. Threatened iv. Endangered v. Extirpated. 

Last months COSEWIC report on Polar Bears (the first since 2002) prepared for our Minister of Environment kept the Polar Bear listed as Special Concern. In the summary here they have painstakingly added "All projections are based on currently available data and do not account for the possible effects of climate change." 

And the reason for not changing the designation in Canada:
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada recently said it would recommend the bears remain as a species of special concern. That would oblige Ottawa to address threats to the animal's survival, including climate change, but would give it until 2014 to come up with a management plan for Canada's estimated 15,000 bears.
2014, the same year the Arctic is expected to be completely free of summer sea ice which the bears hunt from and one year before Baird plans to do anything about the projected 100 mega tonnes of greenhouse gasses that will be pouring out of the tar sands projects.

All that could start to change on Thursday if the US places the Polar Bear on the endangered list. And with an incoming Democratic President, Canada might finally have to start addressing the greenhouse gases pouring out of the tar sands. 

Our governments might not have moved to save the air, water and ducks, but they will move to save oil revenues. 

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