Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wolves in Washington?

No, I'm not talking about the K Street folks doing their darndest to open up oil drilling everywhere an endangered species takes a nap. I respect gray wolves too much to make that comparison. I'm talking about the possibility that gray wolves have moved West and may now be in Washington State.

After a recent story of a possible sighting, Conservation Northwest - a member of our coalition - has revealed that they already had photographs and other evidence of this possibility. They had sent this evidence off for scientific analysis before going public, but with the canine now out of the bag, they've shared their picture with the world. Hats off to them for helping make sure Washington is ready for the return of wolves.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Polar Bears Need an Opportunity – and a Place – to Survive.

Like so many of the bad decisions coming out of the Bush Administration, Polar Bear protection is no exception. The Administration came kicking and screaming to the decision to finally list the Polar Bear as a threatened species deserving protections under the Endangered Species Act. However, the listing came with strings attached. The exemptions the administration made with the listing virtually guarantee the habitat the Polar Bears need to survive will be compromised and so too the Polar Bears recovery.

In a recent report by the US Geological Survey, scientist estimate that 2/3 of the world’s current Polar Bear population could be lost by the year 2050 due to melting sea ice caused by global warming. In Alaska, the Polar Bear could disappear forever.

Despite the consequences for the Polar Bear, the administration has gone head long into selling off the Polar Bear habitat for oil and gas drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas (known as the Polar Bear seas). If that’s not enough, the US Fish and Wildlife Agency gave a blank check to these companies by providing legal protections if “small numbers” of polar bears or walruses are incidentally harmed or killed by exploration activities over the next five years.

The Polar Bear population is already under stress from global warming resulting in starvation, drowning, cannibalism, and reproduction problems. Oil drilling and exploration will add additional stressors on the population with seismic activities, development, and pollution. Polar Bears are naturally curious creatures and will likely explore the oil drilling activities --putting them further in harms way. Another negative consequence is the potential for oil spills. Currently, there is no known effective method to treat oil spills in the harsh environment of the arctic especially during periods of solid and broken ice.

We know that species are twice as likely to recover if their habitat is protected. What we need to know now is more about the impact oil drilling and exploration will have on Polar Bears. Let’s stop selling off leases to big oil companies before we know what the consequences of these actions will be on the Polar Bear and the entire marine ecosystem. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced to do just that: the Polar Bear Seas Protection Act.

To learn more visit:

ESC's Polar Bear Seas Action Alert

H.R.6057: Polar Bear Seas Protection Act, sponsored by Congressman Jay Inslee,

S. 2568: Companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Senator John Kerry

For more on the Polar Bear listing, check out this video:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Burning Down the House to Roast the Pig

By Julie Fox Gorte,
Board Member of the Endangered Species Coalition

Daniel Yergin, in the prologue to his book The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, notes that “no other business so starkly and extremely defines the meaning of risk and reward—and the profound impact of chance and fate.” Yes indeed—and how much more stark does it get than when we think of the tradeoff between condemning yet more species to the annals of permanent loss in order to gain somewhere between 0.4% and 1.2% of our daily consumption of oil—starting in 2018 or so, and peaking in 2028.

Nobody really knows how much oil is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but even the most optimistic estimates put the figure below 15 billion barrels—for comparison, Americans consume approximately 20+ million barrels of oil every day. In short, if there were fairy dust that made all the recoverable oil on the currently-protected areas of Alaska’s north slope available to us right now, today, it would last the United States from January 1 this year to October 19 next year (assuming we were consuming oil at the daily rate predicted by the Department of Energy’s EIA in 2030). And for this dubious bounty, advocates of oil production from the protected part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are prepared to risk continued harm to the migratory waterfowl, the caribou, and finally to the polar bears—recently listed by a reluctant Administration as a threatened species, and considered by more objective sources as endangered.

A 2003 report from the National Academy of Sciences described the effects of existing oil and gas production and exploration on Alaska’s North Slope, including:
  • displacement of bowhead whales (already endangered);
  • an increase in predator densities resulting from human activity in the oil fields, which has reduced the reproductive success of several bird species (black brant, snow geese, eiders, and some shorebirds) to the point where reproduction is insufficient to offset mortality; and
  • reduction in the reproductive success of caribou.
There are many other dividends paid by current oil activity on the north slope, including a growing cohort of abandoned lands disturbed and in some cases contaminated by oil exploration and production; interference with subsistence hunting and fishing activities of many of the indigenous peoples of the area; losses of traditional culture (which the National Academies noted was “probably irreversible”), and compromised wildland and scenic values over large areas. And of course we must consider one of the primary reasons that the polar bears are dwindling: climate change. Pulling these 15 billion barrels (or however many) from the earth in this lovely, pristine, and precious corner of the earth will only exacerbate that; fossil fuel combustion is the culprit for the warming of the globe that has probably condemned polar bears to extinction, and is forecast to increase (or continue to increase) the severity and incidence of floods, storms, fires, and droughts, and raise sea levels by anywhere from a few feet to dozens of feet or more. For all this, we get enough oil to last us less than the amount of time Anne Boleyn was queen of England, if we used it all at once—starting a decade from now. Not much of a bargain.

The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti asked whether man must burn down his house to roast his pig, and there is nowhere a better example of the relevance of this question. While advocates of opening the off-limits areas of the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling often tout things like reduced dependence on foreign oil and reduced costs, it is wise to remember that what we’re really talking about is something on the order of 0.4% to 1.2% of world oil consumption and a reduction in the price of low-sulfur crude by $0.41 to $1.44 per barrel in 2026. By 2026, it is possible to envision the use of plug-in hybrids recharging from an electric grid increasingly powered by sun, wind, waves, and geothermal sources, which also has the beneficent effect of helping to liberate us from dependence on foreign oil without taking so much that is precious and irreplaceable away in exchange.