Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today to discuss potential impact of climate change on wildlife.
I think it goes without saying that the earth has experienced climatic changes that have affected species - just ask the dinosaurs. The concern I continue to voice is the leap of faith that human beings are responsible for any variation in climate or that species will go extinct if we don’t regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
As kids, we all learned about ice ages and big thaws; about prehistoric creatures and their evolution into creatures alive today. Long before human influence on nature, animal and plant species came and went. They routinely moved, migrated, and adapted to their naturally changing environments. Today, in spite of our very sharp regulatory sticks, some species decline, some species increase and new species are discovered. If a particular species is declining, it does not mean that man is at fault or that it is due to global warming.
The fact is that the relationship between species and climate is not clearly understood. Our growing knowledge about the planet is still in its infancy. For example, just last year we discovered for the first time that trees emit methane – a potent greenhouse gas. If we didn’t know trees – which are everywhere – emit methane, what else don’t we know about the planet’s processes?
Our lack of understanding doesn’t stop some from trying to force linkages between climate change and species, as is the case with the proposal to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.
Based on the scientific literature, I do not believe we have a firm understanding of what is actually occurring in the Arctic. Sea ice data is incomplete, and for one of the most important arctic climate variables – precipitation and evaporation – the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment found that:
"Uncertainties concerning even the present-day distributions of precipitation and evaporation are sufficiently large that evaluations of recent variations and trends are problematic."
So how can we predict future trends and their impact on polar bears when we don’t understand the present?
Furthermore, the polar bear data suggests that the bears are not, in fact, in trouble. For 14 of the 19 polar bear populations, there is no clear evidence of decline. Overall, since the 1950s and 60s, the bear population has grown from 8000-10,000 bears to nearly 25,000.
The Fish and Wildlife Service based their listing of the entire polar bear population on data from a single population in the Western Hudson Bay. This population appears to have experienced a decline of 22%; however, the Canadian government believes the population to be healthy enough to support hunting of more than 460 bears, based on a 5-year average. As a former mayor, I believe the local people are the best judges of what is really happening on the ground. This bear population must not be in peril if those who know it best believe hunting will help maintain a healthy population.
I believe the proposal to list the polar bear, and more broadly to link climate change and species, is part of an effort to alter energy policy and shut down development not only in Alaska but across the country. This agenda was made clear just last week when the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition asking 7 federal agencies, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to consider the potential effects of global warming on species when undertaking any major action, such as highway construction or energy permitting. It is clear that environmentalists are seeking to use Americans’ love of wildlife as a way to bring about climate changes policies they cannot get on the science alone.
I look forward to hearing the testimony.