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EWIRE

Judgment Day Set for Polar Bears

SAN FRANCISCO, California, Jun. 30 - /EWire/ -- Conservation groups announced on June 29 that they have reached a settlement in a lawsuit to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. Under the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must complete its "12-month" finding on whether polar bears should be listed under the Endangered Species Act by December 27, 2006.

"The scientific community is issuing sharp warnings to address global warming now, or suffer consequences that include the loss of Arctic sea ice and species such as the polar bear," said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We need to immediately protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act and immediately cut greenhouse gas pollution."

Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on sea ice for all of their essential needs, including hunting their prey of ice seals. The rapid warming of the Arctic and melting of the sea ice poses an overwhelming threat to polar bears, which could become the first mammal to lose 100 percent of its habitat due to global warming.

Recent findings have painted a dire picture for the polar bear. Reduced food availability due to global warming has resulted in polar bear cannibalism off the north coast of Alaska and Canada. Scientists with the U.S. Minerals Management Service also documented the drowning of at least four polar bears in September 2004, when the sea ice retreated a record 160 miles off the state's northern coast. The loss of sea ice caused the polar bear population in Western Hudson Bay to decline from approximately 1,200 bears in 1995, to 1,100 bears in 1997, and then to fewer than 950 bears in 2004.

Listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to polar bears, including a requirement that U.S. federal agencies ensure that any action they carry out, authorize or fund will not "jeopardize the continued existence" of polar bears or adversely modify their critical habitat.

The United States is the world's largest emitter of the heat trapping pollution that causes global warming, primarily carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks and power plants. The United States has four percent of the world's population, but produces about one-quarter of its greenhouse gas pollution.

The conservation organizations Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, and Greenpeace sued the Bush administration in December 2005 because the government had ignored a formal petition to protect the polar bear, which the Center for Biological Diversity filed in February 2005. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed its required initial "90-day" finding in February 2006, found that protection of polar bears "may be warranted," and commenced a full status review of the species. The results of that review, as well as review of public comments received, will form the basis of the important "12-month finding" now due by December 27. At the 12-month finding stage, the Fish and Wildlife Service must determine whether protection of polar bears "is warranted," and if so, issue a proposal to protect the species. The proposal would then undergo peer review and public comment before becoming final.

The first public comment period on listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act ended on June 16. More than 200,000 comments were submitted in support of listing the polar bear, including letters from eminent polar bear experts, climate scientists and more than 35 members of Congress.

The settlement announced this week will become a final enforceable court order when signed by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White.

For more information:

Kassie Siegel Center for Biological Diversity Tel : 951-961-7972 E-mail: ksiegel@biologicaldiversity.org Website : http://www.biologicaldiversity.org

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