Expert Comment: Proposal to List Polar Bears as ‘Threatened’ Is Flawed

Published February 1, 2008

(Chicago, Illinois – February 1, 2008) After a public comment period that began in December 2006, U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne appears poised to list polar bears as a “threatened” species in the U.S.

Polar bear populations are not currently in decline, but Kempthorne believes global warming may threaten them in the future.

Experts contacted by The Heartland Institute were critical of the measure, which they warned could open the gates to unprecedented regulatory interference in Americans’ lives. You may quote from these statements or contact the experts directly at the phone numbers and email addresses provided below.

“The Endangered Species Act requires that listing decisions be based on the ‘best available scientific data.’ That data does not support listing the polar bear as a threatened species.

“Polar bear populations have increased significantly in the past half-century. Computer models that predict future threats are speculative and have no predictive capability. Speculation is not data and therefore should not be considered in the listing decision.”

Myron Ebell
Director, Energy & Global Warming Policy
Competitive Enterprise Institute
[email protected]
202/331-2256 direct
202/320-6685 mobile

“The Endangered Species Act, for all of its flaws, was written to protect species that are actually endangered in light of low population numbers or a steep, rapid present decline based on the best available data–not to protect species prospectively–that is, if x, y, and z happen, they might go into decline at some time far in the future.

“Based on this standard, there is no way the polar bear should be listed–their numbers are at a high mark for the twentieth century and perhaps in history, having risen from around 5,000 at the middle of the century to more than 22,000 today. While a couple of polar bear populations do seem to be shrinking, most populations are stable or increasing and the ones in decline are in areas where cooling is actually occurring.

“This is just a transparent attempt by radical environmentalists to use what is widely acknowledged as the most powerful environmental law in the land, to slow or halt continued economic development, not just in Alaska but in the mainland U.S.–which has been their ultimate goal for many years.

“The purported threat to the photogenic polar bear is their golden opportunity to turn out the lights on industrial civilization and individual choice in the marketplace.”

H. Sterling Burnett
Senior Fellow
National Center for Policy Analysis
[email protected]

“We all love the sighting of polar bears. We know they have been around for tens of thousands of years, during which our climate has warmed and cooled about every 1,500 years. They managed to survive then, and they most certainly will survive now.

“In fact, polar bears have perhaps never been in a better position for survival inasmuch as their numbers presently appear to be at an all-time record for as long as man has kept track of such things.

“To put polar bears on the endangered species list would be the height of absurdity and could only open the door to environmental zealots taking full control of the U.S. economy.”

Jay Lehr, Ph.D.
Science Director
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]

The following articles provide further background on Kempthorne’s proposal and the strength of polar bear populations.

ESA Listing Not Needed for Polar Bears
H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, notes, “If the [polar] bear is listed as threatened, it will be the first time a species was placed on the Endangered Species list based on the threat of global warming.”

Climate Science: Change and Its Impacts
A May 2006 study for the National Center for Policy Analysis, conducted by Dr. David Legates, Delaware’s state climatologist and director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Climatic Research, throws cold water on the claim that global warming threatens to cause the extinction of polar bears.

Polar Bears on Thin Ice? Not Really!
Recently, some scientists have claimed that human-caused global warming poses a significant threat to the survival of many species. Among the species claimed to be at high risk of extinction from human-caused global warming is the charismatic polar bear. But there is little basis for this fear: By and large, polar bear populations are in good shape.

Polar Bear Scare on Thin Ice
James M. Taylor, The Heartland Institute’s senior fellow for environment policy, documents the increase in polar bear populations and their historical resiliency to temperature change.

For more information about The Heartland Institute, please contact Harriette Johnson, media relations manager, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.