In January of 2007, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published a proposed rule in the Federal Register intending to notify the public and seek their comments on the idea of adding the polar bear to the list of threatened and endangered species.
A raft of comments came in, and the government's biologists went off to consider them.
The Service returned to the Federal Register a second time, in October of 2007, and requested more comments. The window closed again.
More than 670,000 comments have been received urging that the polar bear be listed as a "threatened species."
Ask yourself why there was such an outpouring of comments for such an obscure issue.
A variety of environmental groups orchestrated the tsunami of testimonials to the desperate condition of the polar bear because they understand—as much of the public and Congress does not—that a listing of the polar bear will have vast implications, and may in fact be a backdoor to implementation of the Kyoto protocol.
By way of background, I have practiced natural resources law since I left the Reagan Administration in early 1989. Wetlands, jurisdictional waters, and endangered species are my areas of expertise, and if you ever need a lesson on the Stephens' kangaroo rat, the Delhi sands flower-loving fly, the California gnat catcher, the Desert tortoise or any of a couple dozen other plants and animals throughout the west that are protected under the federal or state Endangered Species Act, drop me an e-mail.
All of those species and many more have fairly predictable aftermaths of their listing --a period of great confusion about where they live and breed, what can and cannot be done near them, and lots of meetings and negotiations with federal officials over habitat conservation plans, Section 7 consultations etc. There are lots of landowners and businesses that lose a lot because of this law, but in the past, the impact zone of a listing was at least limited to the area in which the listed species lived.
That won't be the case with any listing of the polar bear, which is why it is the focus of so much zeal among the groups. The reach of the listing wil be immense because of the rationale offered for its protection.
The proposed listing states that the polar bear may be threatened because it is losing the ice it needs to live on due to climate change. If the government agrees with the models that project a dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice over the next few decades, and further agrees that this loss would imperil the polar bear's survivability, the bear gets listed.