Alaska Governor Fights Polar Bear ESA Listing

Published November 1, 2008

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is leading a legal challenge against the U.S. Interior Department’s May 14 decision to list polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

In a lawsuit filed August 4, Alaska emphasizes the scientific evidence showing polar bears are not threatened by predicted global warming and any future retreat of the Arctic polar ice cap.

The Interior Department asserted polar bears are under threat of extinction, even though the animals’ numbers have increased significantly over the past several decades.

Questionable Computer Models

The department based its claim of threatened status on projections, produced by certain computer models, of future ice cap behavior. Putting faith in computer models that have routinely predicted more warming than has occurred in the real world, the department argues Arctic sea ice might significantly decline in the next several decades. Without sufficient sea ice, Interior has postulated, polar bears cannot survive.

“We believe that the service’s decision to list the polar bear was not based on the best scientific and commercial data available,” Palin said in an August 4 press statement.

“The state takes seriously its obligation and interest in the management, conservation, and regulation of all wildlife and other natural resources within its jurisdiction,” Palin’s office stated in an accompanying press release.

“Alaska is also responsible for the welfare of its citizens, who are concerned that the unwarranted listing of the polar bear as a threatened species will have a significant adverse impact on Alaska by deterring activities such as commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration and development, transportation, and tourism within and off-shore of Alaska,” the release continued.

Exaggerated Threat?

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmentalist group, is adamantly opposed to any delisting of polar bears in Alaska and has joined forces with the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“The overwhelming body of scientific literature is unanimous that polar bears are dependent on ice,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of NRDC’s Endangered Species Project. He said those who believe polar bears aren’t threatened by global warming are akin to “people who believe the Earth is flat.”

Keith Lockitch, a resident fellow with the Ayn Rand Center who focuses on science and environmentalism, finds the notion of global warming threatening polar bears any time in the near future ridiculous.

“It’s like that Mark Twain quote,” Lockitch said. “Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. The polar bear population is thriving, and reports about polar bears drowning are basically based on one report that came after an unusual storm.”

The National Association of Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Mining Association, and American Iron and Steel Institute have together filed a separate but similar lawsuit against the polar bear listing.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a Phillips Foundation journalism fellow.