First Wolves, Now Polar Bears: Obama Issues Strike Two for Endangered Species?

polar bear endangered rule obama photo

Photo Credit: amerune via Flickr/CC BY

Seems there's at least one set of policies where Obama isn't parting so drastically from Bush: endangered species rulings. Today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is upholding the Bush rule that limits the action that can be taken to protect polar bears . Before that, Mr. Salazar decided that gray wolves really weren't so endangered either (even though only 1650 exist in the wild)--and potentially opened the floodgates for wolf hunting season by upholding another Bush rule. So what's the deal? Is Obama only green when it comes to energy and climate change? Or does he just hate wolves and polar bears? Not likely--there's more to this story than meets the eye.

The polar bear ruling is a peculiar case--because the polar bear was ruled as threatened primarily because its habitat was vanishing due to climate change. That means traditional conservation efforts like restricting hunting were mostly pointless. To save the polar bear, we've got to fight climate change.

The Complex Polar Bear Rule
And that's where this ruling comes in--it basically says that the Endangered Species Act doesn't have the power to enforce the regulating of greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change in order to protect a species. Whew. So what Mr. Salazar is essentially saying is they're not going to open the door to wide scale emissions regulations through the Endangered Species Act. Which, I hate to say, makes a certain amount of sense.

Yes, I'm all for protecting the polar bear, and I'm all for curbing greenhouse emissions. But if opponents of climate regulation are having a hard time swallowing the EPA's decision that they could regulate CO2 emissions in industry across the nation because it's a "dangerous pollutant", imagine the fit they'd have if the reason was "to save polar bear habitats." Probably not the best way to garner widespread support for an already controversial measure. Although, Salazar could have overturned the rule without turning to enforce it--it could put pressure on legislators to pass a climate bill, like the EPA did, which is what he probably should have done.

Where Polar Bears Stand
So polar bears are still endangered, but the rule just means coal plants won't get shut down on their behalf. Which leads to questions like, okay, so what can we do to protect them, and what good is a rule if it's ineffectual? For one thing, it maintains a symbolic nature--polar bears are endangered because of global warming. It's a reminder to everyone that we've got to act--I wish it were more than that, but it's a start.

As for the wolves' ruling, I think that was a bad call, plain and simple, made by Mr. Salazar--who's shaping up to be one of Obama's less change-y appointees. And Obama probably has barely looked into the matter--between the calamitous wars and the tanking economy, endangered wolves probably rank closer around the "not very" on the importance o-meter (not that they should). And so he relies on the judgment of Mr. Salazar on cases like the wolves--too bad that Salazar seems more and more to be a business-as-usual government fella. Unless, that is, he insinuated the question behind "Yes We Can!" to be "Can we uphold just a little of that Bush philosophy in the face of sweeping change?"

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