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Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Tough week for wildlife and the environment

By Gregg Patterson
ESPNOutdoors.com

News was bad the week of March 10-16 for wildlife and the environment. Here are some of the lowlights:

Monday — Environmental groups sued the Bush Administration for not meeting a deadline to rule on a petition to list the polar bear as a threatened species. The petition to list the polar bear was submitted in 2005. The deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to respond with its final ruling is now more than two months overdue.

Polar bear numbers are strong now, but a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report revealed climate model research indicating significant melting of polar ice — a critical habitat component for the bears — during the next several decades.

Wildlife Management 101 teaches that significant loss of critical habitat means a significant loss in population. The research indicates the ice-melting culprit is global warming.

The USGS report stated that as much as two-thirds of the present polar bear population could be gone by 2050, due to habitat loss.

Another coalition of environmental groups also sued the Bush Administration the same day. This time it's for excluding U.S. Forest Service lands in Michigan and Missouri as critical habitat for an endangered species recovery plan for the Hines emerald dragonfly.

Designating the land as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act would protect it by law.

Most hunters and anglers might not pay attention to this case. The species in question is just a bug, right?

But what if the government said the same thing for the grizzly bear or native trout subspecies?

Then what?

Most of the dragonfly's habitat is on national forest land, totaling 13,000 acres in both states.

Wednesday — President Bush laid down a deadline for Congress to reach an agreement on a new farm bill. If House and Senate conference committees can't agree by April 18, the president says Congress should extend the old 2002 farm bill for another year.

Unfortunately, continuing the old farm bill for another year would be bad for wildlife.

For example, the Wetlands Reserve Program ran out of funding last summer: Unless new money in a new farm bill is provided, wetlands restoration on private lands is basically dead.

To date, this program is responsible for almost 2 million acres of restored wetlands nationwide. Wetlands provide rich habitat for hundreds of fish and wildlife species including deer, ducks, turkeys, bears and other game and non-game species.

The old farm bill officially ended last September. It has been repeatedly extended since then. The House and Senate each passed their own versions of a new farm bill last year, but can't seem to agree on a final version.

The president is tired of waiting.

Congress needs to figure it out quickly and get a bill to the president now.

The farm bill also includes other key programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (37 million acres responsible for more than 2 million ducks and 14 million pheasants).

Sunday — A new report released by the United Nations Environment Programme says the world's glaciers are melting at a rate faster than ever recorded. The research comes from the World Glacier Monitoring Service based in Zurich, Switzerland.

The organization has more than 100 years of glacier data. It monitors more than 100 glaciers located in Europe, Antarctica, North America, Latin America and the Pacific Region.

Some 30 glaciers provide the basis for the group's assessment report, and the organization blames global warming for the accelerated melting.

Glacier melting has accelerated in many places since 1980. In the last few years, significant losses have occurred in glaciers located in Italy, Spain, France, Austria and Norway.

Only one glacier out of 30 actually thickened; it's located in Chile.