SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Polar Bear Listed as Threatened; Disappointment & Concerns Voiced


May 14, 2008

(SitNews) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced its decision today to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne called Governor Sarah Palin this morning to inform her of the USFWS decision, and assured her that oil and gas developments are not to blame.

The state will work with the USFWS on the designation of critical habitat and development of any conservation actions that may be necessary to ensure the continued viability of the species.

jpg Polar bear and cubs

Polar bear and cubs.
Credit: Susanne Miller/USFWS

Click on the arrow above to listen to Governor Palin's comments on the listing.

Click on the arrow above to listen to Senator Murkowski's comments on the listing.

Click on the arrow above to listen to Senator Stevens' comments on the listing.

While the state is disappointed with this decision, Governor Palin said, the state stands ready to assist the USFWS to ensure that polar bear populations remain viable for decades to come. "We offer the substantial expertise of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to assist in the protection of polar bears, and in minimizing negative impacts on the people of Alaska and on important activities elsewhere in the country," she said.

"Alaskans take our public trust responsibilities for our resources very seriously, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the federal agencies to address the conservation needs of these magnificent animals," Governor Palin said. "We will continue to take the steps necessary to ensure that polar bears continue to thrive for generations to come."

The Governor expressed her hope that federal agencies will continue to provide for customary and traditional uses of polar bears. She also remains concerned that federal actions do not threaten the viable, productive and environmentally responsible oil and gas industry along Alaska's North Slope. Attorney General Talis Colberg will review the USFWS decision and the accompanying administrative record to determine whether there are significant defects that merit judicial scrutiny.

Senator Murkowski opposed the listing polar bear as a threatened species and said, "I can't express how extremely disappointed I am that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has chosen to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. I believe it is grossly premature, even with qualifications, to recommend this action based on highly variable climate change models and projected impacts of loss of summer sea ice on a currently healthy population."

Murkowski said, "Alaska's and most nations' polar bear stocks are at near modern record levels. A listing decision based purely on speculation about the future, lack of existing data, and in the absence of better research on bear prey species populations, sets a truly dangerous precedent for listings of a host of wildlife species." She said, "Such a decision threatens the integrity of the entire Act and could prove far worse for wildlife protection in the future."

"Canada, which has the world's largest population of polar bears," said Murkowski, "has chosen to not list the polar bear as threatened or endangered, but as a species of "special concern." I believe our Service has erred in its determination because it is simply too soon to determine the impacts of loss of sea ice on the present population. "

Murkowski said she is concerned that a threatened listing could have serious ramifications for the State of Alaska and the development of all of our natural resources. She said, "I certainly don't believe a threatened listing should affect the construction of an Alaskan natural gas pipeline, or of any other oil and gas projects, since there is zero evidence that any such project has harmed bear populations in the least. Clearly we want to promote the use of clean-burning natural gas to reduce carbon emissions."

Murkowski said she agrees with the agency that subsistence hunting and oil and gas development in Alaska are not a threat to the polar bear and welcome their qualified listing decision. "Clearly the Marine Mammal Protection Act offers more protection for polar bears than the ESA does and current regulations should remain in place for these activities," she said. "But the qualified listing still doesn't alleviate my deep concern that outside interests will now try to use the courts to expand the impact of this decision in ways never intended when the ESA became law."

"I am afraid that this decision opens a Pandora's Box that the Administration will now be unable to close," said Sen. Murkowski.

Senator Ted Stevens also reacted to today's announcement listing the polar bear as endangered. He said,"I am disappointed and disturbed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to weaken the Endangered Species Act by listing the polar bear as threatened despite the steady increase in the species' population. Scientists have observed that there are now three times as many polar bears in the Arctic than there were in the 1970s."

Stevens said, "Never before has a species been listed as endangered or threatened while occupying its entire geographic range.

"This decision was made without any research demonstrating dangerously low population levels in polar bears," said Stevens, "but rather on speculation regarding how ice levels will affect Arctic wildlife. Worse yet, today's decision cannot and will not do anything to reverse sea ice decline."

Stevens said, "Instead, this action by the Fish and Wildlife Service sets a dangerous precedent with far-reaching social and economic ramifications. It opens the door for many other Arctic species to be listed, which would severely hamper Alaska's ability to tap its vast natural resources." He said, "Reinterpreting the Endangered Species Act in this way is an unequivocal victory for extreme environmentalists who want to block all development in our state. "

"The manipulation of the Endangered Species Act was highlighted by Kassie Siegel, the lawyer who wrote the legal petition for the Center for Biological Diversity," said Stevens. "Ms. Siegel made no attempt to disguise her group's intent when she said that the effort to list the polar bears was to 'try to make the point that global warming is not some future threat'. This statement confirms that these fringe environmentalists are simply using the polar bears to advance their extreme agenda. "

Stevens said, "This abuse of Endangered Species law will have a devastating impact on the entire nation through endless litigation and regulation. It will ultimately weaken the Act itself, which has been one of our nation's most valuable tools for conserving wildlife."

"Alaskans must now stand together and fight attempts to exploit the public's fear of climate change as a means to impose unreasonable burdens in our state. The future of Alaska will depend on it," said Senator Stevens.


On the Web:

Secretary Kempthorne Announcement to Protect Polar Bears Under Endangered Species Act




Source of News & Audio:

Office of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin

Office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Office of Sen. Ted Stevens


E-mail your news & photos to

Publish A Letter in SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2008
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska