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Alaska Governor Parnell Doesn’t Want to Protect Polar Bears, For the Sake of Big Oil

Andrew Wetzler

Posted August 9, 2010

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Polar bear mother & two cubs (photo taken by Ansgar Walk)

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell had an op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post, “Habitat designation won’t help polar bears, but will kill Alaska’s jobs,” that can only be characterized as deeply confused.  The basic premise of Governor Parnell’s article is that the federal government shouldn’t designate critical habitat for the polar bear because it won’t help the bear and it will “set aside” parcels of land and sea ice, including “nearly half of Alaska’s oil-producing areas”.  He’s wrong on both counts.

First, the designation of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act does not “set aside” habitat or prohibit that habitat’s use, including for oil development.  While designating an area as critical habitat does require additional protections before the federal government (and only the federal government) can take any action to destroy it, major developments can take place on designated critical habitat.  That last bit is important.  Governor Parnell asserts that everything from “hunting for food” to “construction a septic system” could be effected by the polar bear critical habitat designation, but unless these activities require a permit from the federal government, that’s just not true.

Second, designating critical habitat works.  Studies have repeatedly found a positive correlation between the status of a species (whether its population is listed as declining, stable, or growing) and the designation of critical habitat.  In short, species that have critical habitat designations are more likely to have stable or growing populations than species that don’t.  Polar bears deserve the benefits of these protections no less than any other species, Governor Parnell’s desire for offshore drilling in his state notwithstanding.

I also can’t help but noting that Governor Parnell leads an administration that is currently suing in federal court to strip polar bears of all federal endangered species protections.  One of the main arguments Alaska asserts in that case (NRDC is also a party) is, essentially, that climate change models that show polar bear’s sea ice habitat disappearing are bunk--and certainly not robust enough to justify protecting bears under the Endangered Species Act.  Yet in his op-ed, Governor Parnell admits that “it is likely that much of the [sea ice] area designated as critical habitat will soon be open water.”  That, of course, precisely the problem.  And it’s why polar bears, and their habitat, deserve all the help we can give them.

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ClaudiaAug 9 2010 04:41 PM

Its obvious that we as the people of this dying world need to protect the Polar bears from some politicians.

joseph medvecAug 9 2010 04:49 PM

bears before oil

Rossy BernabeAug 9 2010 05:12 PM

Protect the polar bear now there is time yet

Tucker ThomasAug 9 2010 05:58 PM

NEVER,EVER,EVER GIVE UP ON WILDLIFE, OR ANY OTHER ANIMAL EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SAVE THE POLAR BEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ellie BrittonAug 9 2010 11:39 PM

Where does this governor get his information about how the effects of his political beliefs has on the polar bears quality of life? This just goes to show how once again that politics and big business is worth more than an endangered species. It's all about big business and money in this governors eyes.!!

RuthAug 10 2010 06:48 PM

Parnell is greedy and heartless. To heck with the oil!! SAVE THE POLAR BEARS NOW!!

genevieve autreyAug 10 2010 07:43 PM

there will always be something to take the place of the oil need,but nothing can take the place of the polor bear.

Dorothy CarloAug 12 2010 09:36 AM

Until our clean energy economy becomes a reality, we are stuck with oil, unless we want to give up what oil gives us, in some cases not a bad idea. This does not mean that every acre of land as yet undeveloped should be open to uses like oil production, strip malls and whatever else comes up as a bad idea. This dispute between no drill and drill baby drill should have a middle more sensible ground until oil is not so much a necessity.

Had we started to produce the products for a clean energy future many years ago, we would not be having this discussion today, but shortsightedness of the past need not be shortsightedness of the present or future if we act today.One way to do this is to urge our Congress people to vote for clean energy legislation.

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