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Senator Inhofe

Polar bear proposal shows ESA is broken

By US Senate Environment and Public Works

Friday, January 5, 2007

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) delivered a Senate floor speech today analyzing the proposed Endangered Species Act listing of the Polar Bear by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Following is an excerpt of Senator Inhofe's speech today:

"A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey of wildlife in the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain noted that the polar bear populations 'may now be near historic highs.' So if the number of polar bears does not appear to be in decline, why are we considering listing the species as threatened? Because the ESA is broken and this proposal is indicative of what is wrong with it," Senator Inhofe said. "In the proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that for seven of the 19 worldwide polar bear populations, the Service has no population trend data of any kind," he added.

"The [ESA] law also allows for the Fish and Wildlife Service to justify its proposal on a sample from a single population in Western Hudson Bay in Canada, where bear populations have decreased by 259 polar bears in the last 17 years. Yet hunting was allowed during that entire period in the Western Hudson Bay population. In fact, according to the latest figures collected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 234 bears have been killed in the last 5 years alone. How many more were killed in the previous 12 years and what overall affect did this have on population numbers?" Senator Inhofe said.

"Ironically, the Canadian government is right now considering a proposal to increase the quota on the harvesting of polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay population. This would allow more hunting of the population whose condition is so dire that the Service based its listing decision on it. While I support hunting as a general matter, we need to fully understand its impact on the polar bear populations before we blame global warming for changes in bear populations.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service asserts that the reason for the decline in the Western Hudson Bay population is climate-change-induced ice melting. To make that assertion, they rely on hypothetical climate change computer models showing massive loss of ice that irreparably damages the polar bear's habitat. The Service then extrapolates that reasoning to the other 18 populations of polar bears, making the assumption that all bears in these populations will eventually decline and go extinct. Again, this conclusion is not based on field data but on hypothetical modeling and that is considered perfectly acceptable 'scientific evidence' under the ESA.

"I do not believe our federal conservation policy should be dictated by hypothetical computer projections because the stakes of a listing decision under ESA can be extremely high. The listing of the polar bear is no exception."

THE POLARIZING POLITICS OF THE POLAR BEAR

SENATE FLOOR SPEECH DELIVERED ON JANUARY 4, 2007

Mr. President, I rise today to address the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's recent action to begin formal consideration of whether to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Over the next year, the Fish and Wildlife Service will examine scientific and commercial data regarding the health of the polar bear population and evaluate the presence of any threats to its existence.

The question that the Fish and Wildlife Service must answer is: Is there clear, scientific evidence that current worldwide polar bear populations are in trouble and facing possible extinction in the foreseeable future? 

As the Fish and Wildlife Service reviews the issue over the next year, I feel confident they will conclude as I have, that listing the polar bear is unwarranted.

In the proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that for seven of the 19 worldwide polar bear populations, the Service has no population trend data of any kind. Other data suggest that for an additional five polar bear populations, the number of bears is not declining and is stable. Two more of the bear populations showed reduced numbers in the past due to over hunting, but these two populations are now increasing because of hunting restrictions.

Other sources of data mentioned in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, suggest that "there are more polar bears in the world now than there were 40 years ago." The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the polar bear population is 20,000 to 25,000 bears, whereas in the 1950s and 1960s, estimates were as low as 5,000-10,000 bears due to sport hunting, which has since been restricted.

A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey of wildlife in the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain noted that the polar bear populations "may now be near historic highs."

So if the number of polar bears does not appear to be in decline, why are we considering listing the species as threatened? Because the ESA is broken and this proposal is indicative of what is wrong with it.

The ESA allows the Service to list the entire range of polar bears as threatened and thereby extend a wide array of regulatory restrictions to them and their habitat, despite a dearth of data and the lack of scientific evidence that polar bears are indeed in trouble.

The law also allows for the Fish and Wildlife Service to justify its proposal on a sample from a single population in Western Hudson Bay in Canada, where bear populations have decreased by 259 polar bears in the last 17 years. Yet hunting was allowed during that entire period in the Western Hudson Bay population. In fact, according to the latest figures collected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 234 bears have been killed in the last 5 years alone. How many more were killed in the previous 12 years and what overall affect did this have on population numbers?

Ironically, the Canadian government is right now considering a proposal to increase the quota on the harvesting of polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay population. This would allow more hunting of the population whose condition is so dire that the Service based its listing decision on it. While I support hunting as a general matter, we need to fully understand its impact on the polar bear populations before we blame global warming for changes in bear populations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service asserts that the reason for the decline in the Western Hudson Bay population is climate-change-induced ice melting. To make that assertion, they rely on hypothetical climate change computer models showing massive loss of ice that irreparably damages the polar bear's habitat. The Service then extrapolates that reasoning to the other 18 populations of polar bears, making the assumption that all bears in these populations will eventually decline and go extinct. Again, this conclusion is not based on field data but on hypothetical modeling and that is considered perfectly acceptable "scientific evidence" under the ESA.

I do not believe our federal conservation policy should be dictated by hypothetical computer projections because the stakes of a listing decision under ESA can be extremely high. The listing of the polar bear is no exception.

The ESA is the most effective federal tool to usurp local land use control and undermine private property rights. As landowners and businesses have known for decades, when you want to stop a development project or just about any activity, find a species on that land to protect and things slow down or many times stop altogether. This is because Section 7 of the ESA requires that any project that involves the federal government in any way must meet the approval of the Fish and Wildlife Service before the project can move forward. This federal government involvement in a project can take the form of a federal grant, an environmental permit, a grazing allotment, a pesticide registration or land development permit. The law requires that the Fish and Wildlife Service intervene and determine if the project may affect an endangered or threatened species.

So in the case of the polar bear listing, oil and gas exploration in Alaska, which accounts for 85% of the state's revenue and 25% of the nation's domestic oil production, is immediately called into question. Likewise, the state's shipping, highway construction, or fishing activities will be also be subject to federal scrutiny under Section 7. 

Furthermore, because the Fish and Wildlife Service has linked the ice flow habitat concerns of polar bears to global climate change, all kinds of projects around the country could be challenged. Some will say that this is not possible or that I'm exaggerating. But if you take the ESA to its logical conclusion, which is certain to be done by environmental special interests, any activity that allegedly affects climate change or greenhouse gas emissions may have to be evaluated and approved by Fish and Wildlife Service for its effect on the ice flows on which polar bears depend. Thus, this proposal could be the ultimate assault on local land use decision-making and suppression of private property rights to date.

So it is important that we take the next year to gather and critically evaluate more science about these impressive creatures to determine whether or not they really are in trouble. We need to replace speculation and uncertainty with facts and figures. I look forward to working with the Fish and Wildlife Service on this important listing decision and I firmly believe that the science will show that the evidence pointing to a threat to polar bears is not sufficient to warrant federal ESA protection and all the regulatory land use control that comes with it.











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