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Ovation: Polar Bears One, Sarah Palin Zero.

07/07/2011

Last week, a federal judge upheld a 2008 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act because climate change is threatening their survival.  The polar bear was the first species added to the Endangered Species List due solely to the threat from global warming.  While the judge ruled to keep the bears on the “threatened” list, he did not rule to classify the animals as “endangered”.

A challenge to the listing had been brought by the state of Alaska under the leadership of then-Governor Sarah Palin, and hunting groups, who argued that the listing was unnecessary.  They believed that the bear is protected by other laws and that science has no way of predicting the effects of future climate change on the species.  Scientific studies, however, indicate that due to the rapid melting of its Arctic habitat, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, including all the bears in Alaska, are likely to become extinct within the next forty years.  Because the challengers were unable to convince the judge that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process to reach its decision was not rational, the decision was allowed to stand.  It appears that they really had no argument to begin with.

While obviously no one, neither scientists nor the courts, can predict the future effects of global warming, it’s important to take precautions.  Polar bears are known to be experts at hunting seals and other prey in the sea and on ice, but they are so bad at finding food on land that they spend their short summers fasting and quickly losing weight.  Almost all polar bear experts predict rapid population declines in the Arctic, which is warming faster than anyplace else in the world and changing too rapidly for the bears to adapt and find another source of food.  I’m glad they stayed on the list.

Plus, the little ones are really cute.

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