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Two days ago, Ken Salazar announced the maintenence of a Bush era 'special rule' in connection with the listing of the Polar Bear as a threatened species.  It is chilling to see that Obama's administration is continuing such policies, and not admitting that global warming and greenhouse gases are major contributing factors to the emperilment of the Polar Bear.  

Furthermore, I believe this impacts other listings (or lack thereof) made by US Fish and Wildlife during the Bush era.  These, like the non-inclusion of the Emperor Penguin in December 2008, need to be reviewed again, taking into consideration Climate Change and the impact on Antarctica.  

Penguin Watch goes further, saying that it takes us into conflict with our International obligations under the Antarctic Treaty System, and it is contrary to the very wording of the US Endangered Species Act.  At very least, Salazar and the Dept of the Interior should open this up to scientists and find out what is truly necessary to adequately protect these species.  Penguin Watch's article (with permission) is posted below the fold.  

The major exception to the normal protections afforded species under the act is as follows:

The rule also states that incidental take of polar bears resulting from activities outside the bear’s range, such as emission of greenhouse gases, will not be prohibited under the ESA.
From Ken Salazar's Press Release

This cannot stand!! This flies in the face of the scientific consensus and smacks of the same kind of restrictions that Bush placed on numerous rules to allow for corporatism and greed to flow, at the expense of the Environment, Worker's rights, etc.  

Penguin Watch's reasoning, and their Call for Action (in contacting the Obama Administration and asking them to rethink and review their policies) is below.  

The following is cross posted (with permission) from Penguin Watch: Following the Plight of the Penguins

Back in 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition with the US Fish and Wildlife service asking that 12 species of penguins be placed on the threatened or endangered list, under the auspices of the United States Endangered Species Act.   In December 2008, the Bush Administration (lame duck at that point) placed one species, the African Penguin, on the endangered list, and 5 species, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, the White-Flippered Penguin ,the Fiordland Crested Penguin, the Erect-Crested penguin and the Humboldt Penguin, on the threatened list.   Although we here at Penguin Watch applaud the inclusion of these species, none of which are indigineous to American owned territory, as threatened or endangered, we feel that they did not go nearly far enough.  Of particular concern is the non-inclusion of the Emperor Penguin on the list, as well as the reasoning thereof.  

The emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), with range restricted to Antarctica, was found to have stable populations. Review of the best available scientific information found no significant threats to the current survival of the emperor penguin and little or no evidence of current directional climate change impacts on its habitat. While such change may occur in the future, existing predictive models are not sufficiently advanced to allow reliable forecasting of possible changes to emperor penguin habitat over the next 100 years. The Service does not have sufficient scientific information to conclude that in the foreseeable future, the habitat of the emperor penguin will be altered to the point where the species is threatened with extinction.

We believe that this ignores scientific evidence of global warming, and the alterations that has on the climate of the Antarctic.  The Bush Administration was walking a fine line, hoping to avoid listing species, such as the Polar Bear or Emperor Penguin, whose main threat is the shifting climate due to human activity.   The United States contributes 25% of the greenhouse emissions and would be significantly culpable if it admitted that this effect was injuring these species, especially if listed under the auspices of the United States Endangered Species Act. Furthermore, the Bush Administration added a special rule specifically disallowing the inclusion of the Polar Bear on the Endangered Species List due to the effects of global warming.   This sets a particularly bad precedent, which could be easily carried over to the Emperor Penguin as well (the threats to the two species, although not at the same rate, have an identical cause).  We were hopeful that with the election of a new administration, such concerns would be addressed, and species like the Emperor Penguin would be rightfully listed and afforded the greater amount of protection necessary to ensure their survival, and particularly the Polar Bear special rule would be rescinded.   Sadly, this does not seem to be the case.  

Congress passed legislation on March 10 giving Secretary Salazar power until May 9 to rescind with the stroke of a pen both the special rule for the polar bear and a rule that exempted thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gas emissions, from review by expert scientists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services. This latter “consultation” rule was revoked by the Obama administration last week, but Secretary Salazar has stated he will allow Bush’s rule eliminating protections for polar bears to stand.  Center for Biological Diversity Press Release  

We urge Ken Salazar to remove this protection and allow science, and the carefully laid out processes, to proceed unabated by special 'protection' of particular species FROM protecion and listing.  These species need our help for survival and we have an obligation to protect them.  It is vital that birds like the Emperor Penguin are listed as threatened due to global warming, and that this further tool is available to ensure their continued survival on the planet.  The Endangered Species Act specifically calls for us to adhere to International Treaties under Section 2.4.G:

The United States has pledged itself as a sovereign state in the international community to conserve to the extent practicable the various species of fish and wildlife and plants facing extinction, pursuant to ... (G) other international agreements.  

These agreements must certainly include the Antarctic Treaty System: Conservation of Antarctic Flora and Fauna.  In this treaty, the US has committed itself to prohibiting 'harmful interference' of the native plants and animals of the Antarctic.  Surely here the Emperor Penguin qualifies.  Harmful interference is defined as:

any activity that results in the significant adverse modification of habitats of any species of native mammal, bird, plant, or invertebrate.  
Annex II of the Conservation of Fauna and Flora from the Antarctic Treaty

Reading these documents, it seems clear that we already have an obligation to protect Antarctic Species.  That coupled with the latest news, like the breaking up of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, lead to a review of the policy, set by the Bush Administration, that chose not to list the Emperor Penguin (and others) as a threatened or endangered species via the Endangered Species Act.  The situation is changing rapidly, and we need to place the greatest amount of protection on these species before it is too late.  As the award winning documentary, The March of the Penguins, shows, their life is hardly easy, and any alteration to their fragile circumstances can be significant.   The plight of the penguins is dire, and we need to help to stop it.   Urge the Obama administration to review this situation and let the science, and not preconceptions, decide.  

Originally posted to DK Green on Sun May 10, 2009 at 09:55 AM PDT.

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