February 27, 2008

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Polar Bears: Up Close and Personal
The Feb. 21st Seattle Times included a good pro-con presentation regarding the possibility that the Alaskan polar bear will be designated a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act due to long range potential risks from global warming. The viewpoints are a bit extreme, but the writers do a good job presenting their perspectives. See Links Below

What's lacking in the coverage is an explanation of the potential impact on our state's economy. Washington is Alaska's principle supplier of consumer items and capital goods and Alaska provides vast volumes of highly lucrative crude oil and seafood that fuel state oil refineries and the Seattle-based seafood industry.

According to a study in 2003 by the Seattle and Tacoma Chambers of Commerce, Alaskan trade generated about $4 billion that year for central Puget Sound while directly creating 50,000 jobs. We send them goods because they send us money as 640,000 Alaskan consumers rely on Washington merchants, wholesalers and shippers for nearly everything.

Alaska state officials say the polar bear is one of thirty Alaskan creatures that are now being pushed for endangered species status based on long range potential impacts of global warming. The habitats of these animals cover the entire coast of Alaska. This is significant because the coast is where 95% of Alaskans live and where 90% of all Alaskan economic activity takes place.

If any of the animals are listed, the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) can't, by itself, do squat to protect them from global warming which results from world wide climate conditions that are beyond the reach of the ESA.

Some environmental groups say they will instead use the listing as a basis for curbing emissions in the Lower 48. But, in the unlikely event they succeed in that cosmic bank shot, the ESA only impacts the US while China, India and other places keep building coal plants and buying cars like they were -- well, Americans.

However, listing the animals will have one enormous practical impact. It will create a new platform for legal and political challenges to any human activity that might impact the Alaskan animal habitats.

For instance, if the Polar Bear is listed it could have a drastic impact on the proposed natural gas pipeline that is planned to transport Alaska's huge natural gas reserves from the North Slope to markets in the lower 48. Ironically, the pipline used to be supported by leading environmental groups because the natural gas could replace coal as a fuel source for many midwestern electrical generating plants.

Extend EAS protection to the rest of Alaska's coastal areas and the impacts could make our Spotted Owl experience seem like a walk in the forest on a sunny summer day while doing nothing as in nada - to really protect animals from climate change.

Alaskan state officials are already working with federal and international agencies to figure out ways to help polar bears deal with a thinning ice pack.

Seattle Times Presentation - "Do Polar Bears Belong on the Endangered List:"




Polar Bears: Up Close and Personal



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