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Climate Change» White House protects polar bears with Alaska 'critical habitat' designation

»Wednesday, November 4,2009

The decision would put restrictions on oil and gas drilling along the north coast of Alaska. It was brought in partial settlement of a law suit brought by environmentalists.

The "critical habitat" designation would bar government agencies from authorising activities that could hurt recovering species.

But it does not address the broader question of how to stop the melting of the Arctic that is putting the iconic animal at risk of going extinct.

The loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming is widely recognised as the greatest threat to the polar bears' survival. The Bush administration last year declared the polar bear were a threatened species - but it made sure to exclude the animal from protection from greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The Obama administration infuriated environmentalists when it upheld that exclusion last May.

Earlier this week, another branch of the interior department gave Shell the go-ahead to begin exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Seat, which is home to large numbers of endangered bowhead whales, walruses and seals as well as polar bear.

"If polar bears are to survive in a rapidly melting Arctic, we need to protect their critical habitat, not turn it into a polluted industrial zone," said Brendan Cummings, a lawyer for the Centre for Biological Diversity, one of three environmental organisations which brought the suit. "The interior department is schizophrenic, declaring its intent to protect polar bear habitat in the Arctic yet simultaneously sacrificing the habitat to feed our unsustainable addiction to oil."

The administration has until June to finalise the habitat plan.

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