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Sunday, April 15, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Records: U.S. agency did look at threats to polars bears

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Contrary to Interior Department claims, officials completed a review of studies examining how human activities were affecting Arctic warming and endangering polar bears' survival less than a week before proposing to list the bears as threatened with extinction, according to department documents.

The "Range-Wide Status Review of the Polar Bear," posted on a government Web site, was completed six days before Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed adding polar bears to the endangered-species list Dec. 27. It cites several studies on how greenhouse-gas emissions are affecting the Arctic and how cuts in carbon dioxide could slow the pace of warming there.

None of those citations made it into the final listing proposal, and the department for months has denied that such an analysis occurred.

One section, for example, refers to a 2005 study by NASA scientist James Hansen that suggests "the warming trend would change considerably if actions were taken soon enough to keep the atmospheric gases from increasing." By contrast, the listing proposal omits this line and states that when it comes to climate change in the Arctic, "there are few, if any, processes that are capable of altering this trajectory."

Kieran Suckling, policy director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, said the editing highlights the extent to which the Bush administration is underplaying the connection between climate change and the polar bear's predicament: "At every single turn, the administration has suppressed science on polar bears and global warming, so while this is incredibly disappointing, it's not surprising."

In late December, Kempthorne and other officials said they believed polar bears deserved federal protection because the sea ice they depend on is disappearing as Arctic temperatures rise. However, Kempthorne emphasized at a news conference at the time that his department did not examine the connection between global warming and shrinking sea ice.

H. Dale Hall, who directs the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the status review amounted to "a literature search" in which authors cited studies without assessing their validity. "There's not a quality test when you're doing a status review," Hall said. "It's not our analysis."

Hall added that if the polar bear makes it onto the endangered-species list, his agency would ask climate scientists about addressing global warming.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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