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4 minutes reading time (716 words)

Conservation Rule for Polar Bears Retained

Underlines Need for Comprehensive Energy and Climate Change Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May, 9, 2009) – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he will retain a special rule issued in December for protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, but will closely monitor the implementation of the rule to determine if additional measures are necessary to conserve and recover the polar bear and its habitat.

“To see the polar bear’s habitat melting and an iconic species threatened is an environmental tragedy of the modern age,” Salazar said.  “This administration is fully committed to the protection and recovery of the polar bear.  I have reviewed the current rule, received the recommendations of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and concluded that the best course of action for protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act is to wisely implement the current rule, monitor its effectiveness, and evaluate our options for improving the recovery of the species.” 

The polar bear is listed as a threatened species under the Act, meaning it is at risk of becoming an endangered species throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The law provides civil and criminal penalties for actions that kill or injure bears and bars federal agencies from taking actions that are likely to jeopardize the species or adversely modify its critical habitat.

In addition, the polar bear is protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which provides equal and in some cases more stringent protections, and international treaties such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Section 4(d) of the ESA allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to tailor regulatory prohibitions for threatened species as deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the species. Hence, the special rule is referred to as a 4(d) rule.

“In our judgment, keeping the rule is the best course of action for the polar bear,” said Thomas L. Strickland, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks.  “We will continue to reach out and listen to the public and a wide range of stakeholders as we monitor the rule, and will not hesitate to take additional steps if necessary to protect this iconic species.” 

The rule also states that incidental take of polar bears resulting from activities outside the bear’s range, such as emission of greenhouse gases, will not be prohibited under the ESA.

“We must do all we can to help the polar bear recover, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change,” Salazar said. “However, the Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions.  Instead, we need a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts – including the loss of sea ice. Both President Obama and I are committed to achieving that goal.”

Under the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, Congress granted Salazar authority until May 10 to revoke the 4(d) rule.  If Salazar had decided to withdraw the 4(d) rule, a virtually identical “interim” 4(d) rule issued by the previous Administration when the polar bear was first listed as a threatened species would be put back in place.

“Revoking the current 4(d) rule would return us to an interim rule that would offer no more protections for the polar bear and would result in uncertainty and confusion about the management of the species,” Salazar said. 

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget request includes a significant new commitment to helping conserve the polar bear.  The budget request includes an increase of $7.4 million for polar bear conservation, of which $3.2 million will be invested through the Fish and Wildlife Service.  This new commitment includes a $1.5 million increase for the Endangered Species program specifically to address new and reinitiated interagency consultations on oil and gas projects and to prepare for a range-wide Polar Bear Conservation Plan to guide U.S. and international work to conserve and improve the status of the species.  An increase of $1.7 million will allow the FWS Marine Mammal program to intensify work with partners to prepare, review, and publish population assessments, conservation plans, and incidental take regulations.

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