Good news came for polars bears last week when a federal judge struck down a Bush administration rule that exempted greenhouse gas emissions from regulation under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Department of the Interior violated provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a special rule that excluded from regulation activities occurring outside the range of the polar bear, such as greenhouse gas emissions from big polluters like coal plants.
Thanks to Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace, who challenged the Bush exemption in 2008, the government must now go back and undertake a full environmental analysis of the situation of the polar bear, and what must be done to prevent its disappearance forever.
The polar bear was the first species added to the endangered species list primarily because of threats from climate change. Its melting Arctic habitat is among the most striking examples of how warming temperatures are changing the face of the planet. Dependent on sea-ice to find food, mates and den and raise their young, polar bear populations have been severely impacted by their shrinking habitat.
Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said, “Just this summer, Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest level on record, making polar bear protections more important than ever. Only by acknowledging and accounting for the dramatic effects of climate change can this administration give this Arctic icon a realistic chance of survival.”
But wait, there’s more! The same day, the court ruling came to uphold the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to prohibit the importation of sport-hunted polar bear trophies following the listing of polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This adds another layer of protection to the imperiled Arctic icon.
Times are tough for polar bears. Hopefully, actions like this will make sea-ice survival just a little bit easier.