Resource Development Council

Action Alert:
Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing

Deadline for comment is April 9, 2007

View RDC's Comment Letter April 9, 2007

View RDC's Comment Letter October 22, 2007


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The primary threat to polar bears as identified by the Service is the decrease in Arctic sea ice coverage. The Service has linked melting summer sea ice in the Arctic to global climate change and fears the bears’ habitat may be melting due to warmer temperatures. Some computer models predict that summer sea ice, which polar bears use to hunt for ringed seals, will decline 50 to 100 percent by as early as 2040.

The Service has acknowledged its opinion regarding the impact of melting sea ice on polar bears is not universally shared in the scientific community. Other scientists have indicated polar bears would not become extinct, with ice cover remaining in the winter. They point out polar bears have survived intense warming periods in the past. The proposed listing is unusual since polar bears are abundant and their population in Alaska is healthy in size and distribution. Worldwide, the population is near historic highs and has increased from 8,000-10,000 between 1965-1970 to as many as 25,000 today – all during a trend of warming temperatures.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has said the proposed listing is in no way intended to block oil and gas development in Alaska.  However, environmental groups have made it clear they intend to use a listing as leverage, perhaps eventually through litigation, to restrict development and push for new initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some groups could use a listing to challenge oil development in the Arctic, including ANWR, NPR-A and other frontier areas. The proposed listing itself responds to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to list the bear as threatened and to designate critical habitat. The Center recently stated “we need to put the brakes on full-bore oil and gas development.”

If the decision is to list, federal agencies must ensure any activities they authorize must not jeopardize the bears or their habitat. That could include a broad range of activities ranging from local community development and shipping to subsistence hunting and oil and gas exploration.

As part of its request for comments on the listing, the Service is seeking information regarding measures to consider and reasons why any habitat should or should not be determined to be critical habitat.

Action Requested: 

A 90-day public comment period that opened January 9 has already drawn more than 100,000 comments. RDC urges its members to submit comments opposing an ESA listing for the polar bear. Strong protections and existing conservation programs that promote polar bear protection place this species in a favorable position where ESA listing cannot be justified.

Submit written comments to:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Marine Mammals Management Office
1011 East Tudor Road
Anchorage, AK 99503
Attention: Polar Bear Finding

Comments may also be sent via email to:

Comments may also be sent via the internet:

Deadline for comment is April 9, 2007.

Attend a public hearing to present brief testimony:

March 1 in Anchorage at Loussac Library, Wilda Marston Theater, 3600 Denali Street

7:00-10:00 p.m.

March 5 in Washington, D.C. at U.S. Department of the Interior Sidney Yates Auditorium, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 6:00-9:00 p.m.

March 7 in Barrow at the Inupiat Heritage Center, 5:00-10:00 p.m.

Points to consider for your comments:

  • The proposed listing of polar bears as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted. Polar bears and their habitat are well managed and protected by numerous international and domestic agreements, regulatory mechanisms and laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the National Environmental Policy Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and coastal zone management programs at the federal, state and local levels.
  • Extensive legal authorities and agreements make the polar bear one of the most protected species in the world, and provide more than adequate basis for addressing realistic threats. In fact, these regulatory mechanisms have resulted in the successful conservation and management of polar bears on a global scale.
  • No species has ever been listed under the ESA where the scientific consensus indicates that the species continues to occupy its entire original range at sustaining population levels. In Alaska polar bears are abundant and are near historic population highs. Worldwide, the population has increased from 8,000-10,000 between 1965-1970 to as many as 25,000 today – all during a trend of warming temperatures.
  • Congress intended a “threatened” listing under the ESA to require a judgment that the probability of a species becoming in danger of extinction is not merely “possible,” but rather that it is “likely” in the foreseeable future. The best available information does not reliably demonstrate that polar bears are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
  • Based upon the best available science and commercial information, the USFWS must evaluate the species’ population size, distribution and health. These factors, measured over time, are the best available indicators that a species is not threatened. The USFWS should not ignore or discount the current health and distribution of polar bears in deciding whether or not to list.
  • Polar bears are not experiencing problems under any of the factors set forth in the ESA for the listing of a species, other than the speculative risk of global warming and sea ice loss.
  • The proposed listing is based on selective use of various carbon-emission scenarios and climate change modeling projections. There is no consensus on whether one scenario or model is more likely to occur over another.
  • Key uncertainties in both the emission scenarios and the climate response models make it impossible to draw reliable conclusions so as to support a listing. The uncertainties are so great that the range of projected impacts to Arctic sea ice using reputable climate models covers the full spectrum from limited change to 100 percent summer sea ice losses.
  • Polar bears have survived other severe warming and cooling periods over thousands of years. Even with the total loss of summer sea ice, the bears are likely to survive the current warming period, given protections now in place and winter ice coverage. 
  • The proposed listing appears to be more about the politics of global climate change, and a listing itself is likely to be used as a referendum on climate change. Any threat – perceived or real – to sea ice, will likely lead to third-party lawsuits demanding broad critical habitat designations, new mandates to reduce emissions and additional restrictions on oil and gas development, resulting in potential implications to domestic energy production and the economy with no added benefit to the polar bears.
  • A polar bear listing could be used by litigants to challenge virtually any project in the United States that would generate greenhouse gases or provide the fuel stock for a carbon-emitting facility. Any government decision to limit greenhouse gases deserves to be debated in the open and not legislated or regulated through the back door by the Endangered Species Act.
  • Historically, there has been virtually no impact on polar bears from oil and gas activities in Alaska. In fact, the sustained and continuing growth of polar bear population for the past 30 years has coincided with the development of the oil and gas industry on the North Slope. Mitigation measures, existing regulatory mechanisms and conservation programs can continue to offset the effects of oil and gas development in the Arctic.
  • Planning and training requirements set forth in current regulations have increased polar bear awareness among industry personnel and have minimized human-bear encounters.
  • No lethal take associated with North Slope industrial activities has occurred during the period covered by incidental harassment regulations, which include measures that minimize impacts to the species.

Deadline for comment is April 9, 2007