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U.S. plan on endangered polar bears lacks teeth, critics say

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its plan Monday for the recovery of threatened polar bears, acknowledging it will take no direct action for addressing the primary threat -- greenhouse gases that contribute to the decline of sea ice habitat.

Polar bears, the first species to be declared threatened or endangered because of climate change, rely on sea ice for hunting seals and raising their young. Climate models project that rising temperatures will continue to diminish sea ice throughout the century.

The plan calls for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions but focuses agency actions only on other conservation strategies, such as preventing contamination from spills, protecting dens or reducing conflicts with people.

Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the petition to list polar bears in 2005, called the recovery plan toothless.

She said it acknowledges that polar bears will not survive without cuts in large-scale greenhouse-gas pollution and shows the need to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. But the agency’s job was to call out the steps needed for polar bears to survive, Wolf said.

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“It acknowledges the problem but fails to put the solution in the core strategy for the bear,” she said.

The agency said in its plan that addressing increased greenhouse gases that result in Arctic warming will require global action. Until that happens, the focus of recovery will be on efforts by U.S. wildlife management that contribute to polar bear survival in the interim “so that they are in a position to recover once Arctic warming has been abated,” the plan said.

Dirk Kempthorne, who was secretary of the U.S. Interior Department under President George W. Bush, announced in 2008 that polar bears would be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. But he said that law would not be used to set climate policy or limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

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