Alaska governor opposes protection for polar bears

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Unfazed by new studies predicting the disappearance of polar bears from Alaska, Gov. Sarah Palin is opposed to listing the bears as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

There’s still too much uncertainty about the future melting of the polar ice cap to justify such a listing, Palin told the federal government last week. And declaring any species “threatened” because of possible global warming effects would “open the floodgates” for petitions affecting thousands of other species, she said.

Palin said the polar bear has become “a metaphor in the highly charged climate change debate.” Those petitioning for protection are using the bears to affect national policy on such distant issues as carbon emissions, which should be addressed in other ways, she said.

The Palin administration is skating on thin ice with such arguments, environmentalists say. The emphasis on uncertainty lines up the state against the preponderance of global scientific opinion, which foresees continued warming caused significantly by emissions form human sources.

An array of new polar bear studies released by the U.S. Geological Survey in September buttressed the case for protection, predicting two-thirds of the world’s polar bears — and all of those in Alaska — would be gone in 50 years because of the shrinking summer ice cap.

A decision by the Interior Department whether to list the polar bears as threatened is expected by January.

The new federal studies were based on conservative, middle-of-the-road projections of sea ice loss, scientists and federal officials said. Their work was drawn from the latest report on global warming released this year by the increasingly confident Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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