NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 20, 2008

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has postponed a decision on whether to list polar bears as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.  Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne has acknowledged polar bear populations are not currently in decline, but he has stated concern over predictions global warming may cause a retreat in Arctic sea ice.  If the bear is finally listed as threatened, it will be the first time a species was placed on the Endangered Species list based on global warming projections, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

FWS cited nine administrative reports in support of its decision to consider listing polar bears.  J. Scott Armstrong, a researcher in the field of scientific forecasting methods, exposed flaws in the sea ice models at a hearing held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee:

  • Armstrong's team audited the methods used in reports cited by FWS and determined each of the studies violated a majority of the forecasting principles that applied to their research.
  • On average, the authors properly applied only 12 percent of their relevant principles.

Ice has declined in some areas of polar bear range, and this decline in ice appears to have reduced the viability of two populations -- at Western Hudson Bay and the Southern Beaufiort.  However, polar bears are currently abundant in all populations, and are not threatened with extinction by sea ice reductions, says Dr. Mitchell Taylor, a biologist recently retired from the Nunavut Territorial government in Canada.

According to a recent paper from the U.S. Geological Survey, the total reduction in optimal polar bear ice habitat will be only 30 percent in 100 years.  Polar bears have always sustained viable populations in areas where they seek onshore retreats during the open water season, says Taylor.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Federal Government Continues to Weigh ESA Listing of Polar Bears," Environment News, April 2008.


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