Friday, October 23, 2009
Endangered polar bears get a little protection
News from Washington that the U.S. Interior Department had proposed protections for the entire range of the country's endangered polar bear population is yet another indication that the change at the White House signals major changes in policy for the world's most powerful military and economic giant. Thursday's announcement opens 60 days of public comment on the proposal, which designates more than 200,000 square miles of land, sea and ice along Alaska's north coast as critical habitat for the U.S. polar bear, according to the New York Times. A final rule is expected to be adopted June 30, 2009. Only 3,500 polar bears in the United States on land or U.S. territorial waters have been able to survive the loss of habitat blamed on global warming, which has melted the polar ice they live on. “Proposing critical habitat for this iconic species is one step in the right direction to help this species stave off extinction, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of sea ice caused by climate change,” said Thomas Strickland, the assistant interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks under President Barack Obama, who took office in January. The previous administration under George W. Bush had declared the polar bear endangered due to melting ice and commercial activities but declined to take further steps to protect the creatures or their habitat, the Times said. If adopted, the new proposal would not remove the habitat from development but would require companies or government agencies to demonstrate that their activities will not negatively impact the species. Still, companies and environmentalists attacked the proposed regulations for opposite reasons. Commercial interests threatened to try to block the rules as being too broad and environmental groups complained they were too lax. In fact, the new rules are part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by conservation groups that complained that the Bush administration had failed to designate protected habitat when it declared the polar bears endangered, the Times said.