domingo, febrero 24, 2008

NORTH AMERICA: Activists want polar bear on endangered list before Alaska oil sale

Activists want polar bear on endangered list before Alaska oil sale Animal activists on Monday pressed the US government to add the polar bear to the list of endangered animal species before the sell-off of oil and gas drilling rights in Alaska begins in the coming days.

"An endangered listing can affect the sell-off of the oil drilling rights," Brandon Frazier, a spokesman for global animal welfare group International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said.

"The authorities would have to get approval through the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct drilling if there is an endangered species that inhabits the area."

The US government is due on Wednesday to offer several million acres of polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska for sale for oil and gas exploration leases.

The lease-sale would make the polar bears' habitat "vulnerable to big business interests and jeopardize the government's ability to protect it," IFAW said in a statement.

US lawmakers have proposed listing the polar bear as "threatened", but IFAW said that did not go far enough.

"A 'threatened' listing leaves open the possibility for exemptions and doesn't shut loopholes, such as the one that allows Americans to trophy-hunt for polar bears in Canada and bring their heads and hides back to the US," Frazier told AFP.

But listing polar bears as endangered before the sell-off of the drilling rights it would also "truly complicate getting the lease-sale in Alaska," he added.

"That's why the decision on listing the polar bear has been delayed," Frazier said.

The US Fish and Wildlife Services last month announced it was putting off a decision on listing the polar bear as a threatened species until after the sell-off of oil and gas drilling rights in Alaska.

"They are trying to wait it out, get the lease-sale through and then make the decision," said Frazier.

"That way, they could list the lease-sale as an exemption," he added.

Last month, US officials insisted the sale of drilling rights posed no threat to polar bears and said they planned to go ahead with the sell-off before a decision is taken on adding the polar bear's status. The US government estimates crude oil reserves under the Chukchi Sea at 15 billion barrels.

Source: Agence France Pressee

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