While the Bush administration works feverishly to remove species like the grizzly bear, gray wolf and bald eagle from the federal endangered species list, an upstart environmental group is petitioning the federal government to add the beleaguered polar bear to the list. While activists with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) do not believe their petition will be approved by the White House, they nevertheless want to draw attention to the plight of the polar bear, which is suffering from habitat loss as a result of global warming.
“We hope it will have a big educational benefit to bring this to the attention of the American public,” says CBD’s Kassie Siegel. “People do like polar bears, and in our view, it is a fact that if the United States does not begin to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, polar bears will go extinct.”
Not coincidentally, Siegel and her cohorts announced their polar bear petition on the same day last week when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect. They hope that their petition will draw attention to the importance of keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)—a primary denning habitat for polar bears—free of oil development. Congress is likely to vote on the ANWR issue this coming session.
Meanwhile, administration officials have already informally dismissed the petition, invoking protections already afforded the great white bear of the north, such as 1972"s Marine Mammal Protection Act. “It is a very well-protected species, even if it is not protected under the Endangered Species Act,” says Hugh Vickery, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of the Interior.