Polar bear listing is sound science, not extremism

To the editor:

In their May 15 editorial "Saving polar bears?" the Review-Journal editors continue to lump ecological scientists in with the green movement and continue to repeat falsehoods about the theory of global warming.

As a scientist and an educator, I cannot stand being characterized as someone who wants to "shut down our modern industrial and technological society entirely." The editors should explain how we got car-pool lanes, recycling and nuclear power plants without shutting down industrialized society. We can adapt, invent and conserve. The well-meaning scientists who monitor the health of the planet should not be summarily lumped in with the lunatic fringe.

The editors are also wrong when they state that the perceived threat to the polar bear is "all based on cobbled-together computer models." Warming has been observed all around the world, but the great effects are occurring in the Arctic. These are empirical observations, as are declines in the fecundity of the Hudson Bay population of polar bears. As recognized by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, polar bears use sea ice for hunting seal pups during a critical period between the birth of the seals and the ice break-up. As a result of plainly evident warming in the region, the bears' hunting period has declined over several years, which has reduced their average energy intake and fecundity.

Other than as a political argument, why would the listing of the polar bear be a controversial decision? According to the Endangered Species Act, an endangered species faces an imminent risk of extinction, while a threatened species faces a foreseeable risk of extinction. Certainly there is a foreseeable risk of extinction for the polar bear. My understanding is that a threatened listing does not require the habitat protections that an endangered listing carries, so why the fuss? With a threatened listing, the wildlife scientists working for the Bush administration finally earn their paychecks, while Secretary Kempthorne can still hold the party line about the uncertainties of climate forecasts.

Meanwhile, the bear gets a few extra protections until the day that its status is revisited.