Concerned for gas pipeline project, Alaska fights push to protect bear
ANCHORAGE - The polar bear can be found in the wild in just one place in the United States - Alaska - and is perhaps as much a symbol of the state as, say, alligators are of Florida.
But are Alaska's politicians pounding on doors in Washington, D.C., to protect it? No.
As the federal government decides whether to list polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Governor Sarah Palin and the state's Republican congressional delegation are solidly opposed to the idea.
Listing the polar bear would trigger a plan to protect the shrinking Arctic sea ice.
And that, Alaskans fear, could dim chances for a proposed project that could bring the state's next big boom: a natural gas pipeline that would tap the North Slope's vast reserves.
"This is yet another example of how a law with the best of intentions has been subverted by the lawyers for the extreme environmental organizations and the liberal Democratic leadership," Representative Don Young said.
Alaska's elected officials reject climate models that predict a complete summer meltdown of the polar ice cap by 2030 or sooner.
They also dispute a study by the US Geological Survey that predicts Alaska's polar bears could be wiped out by 2050.
Listing polar bears as threatened "would establish a dangerous precedent based on mathematical models instead of biological observations," Senator Ted Stevens said this week.
Similarly, Alaska's political leaders have supported the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, despite strong opposition from environmentalists and politicians in the Lower 48. The issue is still before Congress.
Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that sued to protect polar bears, said the state's position, scientifically speaking, is "mostly gibberish" and "motivated by economic concerns and political concerns."
He said that there is considerable evidence of a decline in polar bears in Canada and Alaska - with some of the animals starving, turning to cannibalism, and drowning - and that most scientists believe the drop-off is directly related to the loss of sea ice.