Habitat Returned for Struggling Polar Bears, But Assaults on Wildlife Expand

Wildlife imperiled by climate change and habitat loss are also in the cross-hairs of Republicans, the National Rifle Association, ranchers and fossil interests, and the environmental community is fighting them from every direction.

With so many species at risk these days – as we’re in the midst of the 6th Great Extinction – it’s hard to know which ones need the most protection.

Polar Bears are certainly at the top of the list as their Arctic home literally melts away from climate change.

In 2010, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) set aside over 120 million acres (larger than California) as critical habitat which, of course, was challenged (and won) by the state of Alaska and the oil and gas industry in court.

This week that decison was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, giving polar bears the protection they so need. The acreage is mostly in ocean waters and along Alaska’s northern coast.

More than two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be gone by 2050 if nothing is done to help them. This winter, Arctic sea ice is at the lowest levels ever for the second year in a row. The bears have been on the Endangered Species List since 2008.

Arctic melting

Gray Wolves remain at grave risk. Not only are Republicans trying to strip them of protection through legislation (more on that below), but in November, Oregon’s wildlife commission voted to strip state protection for the 81 wolves in the state.

Environmental groups filed lawsuits, but yesterday, Oregon legislators passed House Bill 4040, which blocks their right to go court. The struggle now is to stop the legislation from passing both houses.

Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will be under assault now that FWS has stripped their Endangered Species protection, bowing to hunters, who look forward to kiling them for sport. What they need is expanded habitat, not less, for a healthy gene pool. Bound by the borders of Yellowstone National Park, they live in just 2-4% of their historic range.

Climate change is decimating key food sources like whitebark pine (decimated by insects) and cutthroat trout.

SHARE Act of 2015 Passes US House, Goes to Senate

Then there’s the Republican majority in Congress, which passed the NRA-supported "Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act of 2015" – which will hopefully be vetoed by President Obama if it passes in the Senate.

Sponsors are Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) New Mexico will push for its passage.

Loaded with the worst anti-wildlife provisions, it:

  • Removes Endangered Species status for gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes, reversing court decisions that restored protection after being removed in 2011. This time they go further, blocking the right to go back to court. Wolves were massacred as soon as protection was removed, and are under assault in Idaho, where they remain unprotected.

They tried unsuccessfully to include these provisions in this year’s budget, but after a fierce battle, Democrats won.

  • Strips FWS and National Park Service of any authority to prevent the state of Alaska from rampant killing (often from helicopters) of wolves, grizzly bears and other large carnivores in protected areas.
  • Bars federal agencies from regulating or even assessing the risks of lead ammunition and fishing tackle, which kills millions of birds and other wildlife each year when they accidentally ingest them. California banned lead bullets for hunting and even the military is phasing lead bullets out.
  • Expands the use of body-gripping traps on public lands and defines trapping as a form of hunting under federal law. Weakens existing laws to make it easier to kill protected migratory birds. Codifies an "open until closed" policy that expands hunting and trapping across public lands with no consideration of conservation priorities.
  • Waives environmental reviews for management decisions on 150 million acres of public land.
  • Opens wilderness lands to road construction and mechanized vehicles.
  • It even blocks the US ban on ivory, crucial to stopping the massacre of elephants and rhinos.

"Making it easier to kill bear cubs and coyote pups in their dens or capture animals using cruel and indiscriminate steel-jaw leghold traps can hardly be described as sportsmanlike. The bill represents a clear assault on wildlife both at home and abroad and provides no benefit to the overwhelming majority of Americans who visit our nation’s public lands to enjoy the outdoors and watch wildlife in their natural habitats," states Animal Welfare Institute.

Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation, explains that it undermines the concept of Wilderness, where the mandate has always been to leave SOME areas where wildlife comes first.

"The bill threatens the sanctity of the Wilderness Act by making hunting, fishing and recreational shooting the primary management mandate on public lands and replaces the Act’s main provision that lands be managed ‘for wilderness character.’ It sets up the creation of an array of gun ranges on our public lands and in all National Monuments across the West, to destroy the safety and solitude that so many seek when hiking or camping.

"Perhaps more disturbing are the creation of special councils that speak directly to the Secretary of Interior and Agriculture, all to promote more hunting, trapping and access to guns and shooting…to kill more wildlife. They are to be comprised of Big Game hunting organizations, hunting and shooting manufacturers groups, firearms and ammunition manufacturers, agriculture, ranching, outfitter and guide industries."

Only 6% of Americans hunt. The vast majority of Americans visit these lands – paid for with our tax dollars – to feel undisturbed nature – the one place left where wildlife can live their lives in peace. We hike, camp, go bird-watching and take photos.

"Legislation created for wildlife, water or lands should reflect our new realities: climate change, habitat loss and endangered species. Our policies, now more than ever, should be based on modern science, decreeing more protection not less, while working toward the goal of true biodiversity. This legislation is designed to keep hunters in charge of wildlife, which alone is reason enough to block it," says Capra.

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