Congress Approves U.S.-Russia Treaty to Protect Polar Bears

In a surprise to many environmentalists, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a proposed bilateral treaty between the U.S. and Russia to protect dwindling populations of polar bears in the far north. The treaty, first conceived in 2000, sets quotas on polar bear hunting by native peoples and calls for the establishment of an international commission to suggest ways to protect habitat for the massive mammals.

Analysts from the nonprofit World Conservation Union estimate the world’s polar bear population to be hovering around the 20,000 mark currently, but they expect a 30 percent decline by 2050. Global warming, which melts the sea ice the bears have evolved to depend on, is cited as the primary threat to polar bear habitat, although pollution and overhunting are also reportedly taking their toll.

Not often thought of as a friend to wildlife, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) sponsored a similar bill approving the treaty that passed in the Senate in June. “This bill will simultaneously support the conservation of U.S. and Russian polar bear populations and the historical traditions of indigenous peoples in the Arctic region,” Stevens told reporters.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are left to wonder how Stevens and his Republican allies will feel about the inevitable suggestion by the international commission established under the treaty to reign in carbon dioxide emissions in order to limit global warming. The Bush administration would no doubt oppose any calls for mandatory emissions reductions, but who knows how the issue will play out with another politician in the White House in 2008.