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Sen. Inhofe: Polar Bear Designation Politics, Not Science

By Phil Brennan   |   Thursday, 15 May 2008 10:41 AM

Republican Sen. James Inhofe, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he was disappointed with the U.S. Department of Interior's decision to list polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, at a time when polar bear numbers have increased.

Inhofe said the decision to do so appears to be based entirely on "unproven computer models.”

“Unfortunately, the decision to list the polar bear as ‘threatened’ appears to be based more on politics than science,” Inhofe said. “With the number of polar bears substantially up over the past 40 years, the decision announced today appears to be based entirely on unproven computer models. The decision, therefore, is simply a case of reality versus unproven computer models, the methodology of which has been challenged by many scientists and forecasting experts.

"If the models are invalid, then the decision based on them is not justified. It’s disappointing that [Interior] Secretary Kempthorne failed to stand up to liberal special interest groups who advocated this listing."

Explaining that "even liberal environmental activists are forced to concede that the numbers of polar bears has risen," Inhofe said that Canadian scientists have reported that "11 of the 13 bear populations are stable, with some increasing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates that there are currently 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears. These numbers are substantially up from lows estimates in the range of 5,000-10,000 in the 1950s and 1960s."

Inhofe said that credit for the increase in numbers should be given to protection already provided to the polar bear by way of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the several international conservation treaties including the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, and the U.S.-Russia Polar Bear Conservation and Management Act of 2006, as well as conservation, education, and outreach agreement with native peoples.

Turning to the decision to count polar bears as being among the endangered species Inhofe said “Today’s decision will have far-reaching consequences. Liberal special interests have employed hundreds of lawyers to try to convert current environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act into climate laws.

"Yet the ESA [Endangered Species Act] is simply not equipped to regulate economy-wide greenhouse gases, nor does the Fish and Wildlife Service have the expertise to be a pollution control agency. The regulatory tools of the ESA function best when at-risk species are faced with local, tangible threats.

"Greenhouse gas emissions are not local. The implications of today’s decision, therefore, will undoubtedly lead to a drastic increase in litigation and eager lawyers ready to use this listing to do exactly what they have intended to do all along — shut down energy production.”

Inhofe cited testimony of William P. Horn, former assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks in 1985-1988 (responsible for the ESA program) who also had experience serving on the Board of Environmental Sciences and Toxicology of the National Academy of Sciences.

Horn told the Environment and Public Works Committee, “It would be a mistake to list the presently healthy and sustainable polar bear populations as a threatened species under the ESA.

"Such action will produce a variety of adverse consequences including 1. creating an ESA listing precedent that opens Pandora’s Box in the form of other unwarranted listings that will diminish resources available for bona fide wildlife conservation and recovery efforts; 2. setting the stage for new rounds of litigation and judicial activism to turn the ESA into a regulatory monster of unprecedented proportions, and 3. harming existing successful polar bear conservation and management programs."

According to Horn "A decision to list a presently healthy species — exhibiting no present trajectory toward endangerment — based on large scale hemispheric models forecasting problems 50 years in the future is a radical departure from the language of the ESA.

"It pushes the decision horizon far into the genuinely unseeable future, is predicated on uncertain intervening events where it is difficult if not impossible to tie those events directly to specific on-the-ground situations, and will likely precipitate the subsequent listing of an array of otherwise healthy species which might also be forecast to face problems a half century or more from now."

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