8:03 AM, October 10, 2008

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Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has never hidden the fact that she's a proud hunter from her home state of Alaska, first with a famous photo (below) through which many Americans initially came to know of her with a caribou she shot, to Wednesday's photo (above) of the governor carrying a tote bag with the slogan "Real Women Hunt Moose."

But some animal rights advocates and activists have taken issue not only with her hunting practices, but more so her administration's stances on issues in Alaska regarding animal welfare.

Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, slammed the VP nominee in a blog post, saying Republican presidential candidate John McCain's choice "cemented" his organization's decision to endorse the Democratic ticket of Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden instead.

Markarian's stinging criticism of Palin:

Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-Alaska) retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation have led to an all-out war on Alaska’s wolves and other creatures. Her record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any other current governor in the United States.

Palin engineered a campaign of shooting predators from airplanes and helicopters, in order to artificially boost the populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters. She offered a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf as an economic incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more of the animals, even though Alaska voters had twice approved a ban on the practice. This year, the issue was up again for a vote of the people, and Palin led the fight against it — in fact, she helped to spend $400,000 of public funds to defeat the initiative.

What’s more, when the Bush administration announced its decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Palin filed a lawsuit to reverse that decision. She said it’s the "wrong move" to protect polar bears, even though their habitat is shrinking and ice floes are vanishing due to global warming.  (Note: It's not the first time L.A. Unleashed told you about Palin's polar bear controversy.)

The choice for animals is especially clear now that Palin is in the mix. If Palin is put in a position to succeed McCain, it could mean rolling back decades of progress on animal issues.

French film icon and well-known animal enthusiast Brigitte Bardot also has been harsh about criticizing Palin, referring to the governor's joke about the difference between her and a pitbull having to do with lipstick, our Dish Rag reports from Britain's Telegraph:

Referring to Palin's pitbull-with-lipstick crack, Bardot adds: "I know dogs well, and I can assure you that no pitbull, no dog, nor any other animal is as dangerous as you are. By denying the responsibility of man in global warming, by advocating gun rights and making statements that are disconcertingly stupid, you are a disgrace to women and you alone represent a terrible threat, a true environmental catastrophe."

Bardot lashed out at Palin for supporting Arctic oil exploration that could threaten ecosystems and for dismissing measures to protect polar bears.

"This shows your total lack of responsibility, your inability to protect or simply respect animal life," she wrote.

The 74-year-old former film star is notorious in France for her outspoken views on immigration, the environment and animal rights. She has been convicted and fined four times in Paris for anti-gay and racist remarks.

But all the criticism may have little to do with how pet owners view her ticket, as McCain had their votes over Obama earlier this summer. However, we must note, that survey was taken before Palin was unleashed into the political campaign.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

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Photo credits: Top: Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images; Below: Associated Press

12:03 PM, October 7, 2008

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From the Associated Press:

ANCHORAGE -- The federal government will designate "critical habitat" for polar bears off Alaska's coast, a decision that could add restrictions to future offshore petroleum exploration or drilling.

Federal law prohibits agencies from taking actions that may adversely modify critical habitat and interfere with polar bear recovery. That probably will affect oil and gas activity, said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of three groups that sued to get a critical habitat designation.
"Other than global warming, the worst thing that's going on in polar bear habitat right now is oil development and the potential for oil spills," Siegel said.

Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said it's not known what area in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska might be designated for polar bears, especially given that sea ice conditions are changing and areas now covered by ice might in the future be open water.

The agreement to designate critical habitat was filed Monday in Oakland as a partial settlement of a lawsuit brought by Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Siegel's group.
They sued in March after Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne missed a January deadline for declaring polar bears threatened or endangered.

Kempthorne on May 14 declared polar bears "threatened," or likely to become endangered, citing their need for sea ice, the dramatic loss of sea ice in recent decades and computer models that suggest sea ice is likely to further recede.

The settlement sets a deadline of June 30, 2010, for a final rule designating critical habitat for the polar bear.
Photo: Subhankar Banerjee / Associated Press

4:50 PM, September 23, 2008

BERLIN — Berlin prosecutors said an autopsy Tuesday showed that the zookeeper who gained fame for hand-rearing the celebrity polar bear cub Knut died of a heart attack. The city’s mayor paid tribute to him for writing Berlin history.Doerflein_and_knut_2

Thomas Doerflein, 44, was found dead in a Berlin apartment Monday. With the cause of death not immediately clear, prosecutors ordered an autopsy Tuesday. A statement from Berlin prosecutors said the autopsy determined that Doerflein suffered a heart attack and that “other causes of death, in particular involvement by another party, are ruled out from a medical point of view.”

Doerflein’s death was front-page news in German newspapers Tuesday. Berlin’s B.Z. tabloid, under the headline “Knut’s daddy dead,” dedicated 11 pages to the keeper, while the Berlin Zoo set up an online condolence book. A few visitors left flowers outside Knut’s enclosure.

Doerflein gained fame in Germany and beyond as the ever-present caretaker for Knut, abandoned by his mother after his birth in late 2006. Knut became a worldwide sensation when the Berlin Zoo decided to raise him by hand, and Doerflein was on hand at every stage of the bear’s growth.

“Whether he wanted to or not, Thomas Doerflein wrote Berlin history in successfully raising Knut,” Mayor Klaus Wowereit wrote in a message of condolences to Doerflein’s mother. “In doing so, he always remained modest and down to earth.”

-- Associated Press

Photo: Doerflein and Knut in March, 2007. Herbert Knosowsi / Associated Press

11:15 AM, September 22, 2008

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U.S. Geological Survey biologists believe that, if current climate-change trends continue, every polar bear in Alaska could be gone by 2050, but The Times' Kim Murphy reports that may not be a major concern to Republican vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin:

Palin's administration has fought federal protections announced in May for polar bears, going to court to assert that the projections for a dramatic shrinking of the bears' icy habitat are unreliable and that polar bears are already protected enough.

Since becoming the Republican vice presidential nominee this month, Palin has championed a balance between energy exploration and environmental regulation. A review of her record as governor shows that, most often, she has tilted that balance in favor of oil and gas development, mining and hunting -- the economic backbones of a state that many residents consider both a scenic treasure and an exploitable resource.

"From further oil and gas development to fishing, mining, timber and tourism -- these developments remain the core of our state," Palin told state legislators last year.

"We here in Alaska share concerns about wildlife, of course -- every Alaskan has concerns about wildlife," she later said. "We're going to continue to . . . make sure that polar bears survive, and thrive, for decades to come."

Since Palin became governor in 2006, the state has sought to ramp up a program that encourages the shooting of wolves from aircraft in areas where they compete with human hunters for moose, caribou and deer.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

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Photos: Polar bear, California Museum of Science & Industry; Sarah Palin with caribou she shot, Associated Press

1:10 PM, September 9, 2008

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When officials at the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in central Japan decided to go green and conserve water by changing the polar bears' pond water less often, they probably didn't have this in mind. The bears turned green in July after the pool developed an overgrowth of algae, which is very difficult to rinse out of the bears' fur. They are expected to return to their ordinary yellow-tinged white after the algae growth subsides in November.

Photo credit: Associated Press

11:20 AM, August 22, 2008

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Federal wildlife monitors spotted nine polar bears in one day swimming in the open ocean off Alaska's northwest coast -- prompting environmental groups to say the sightings are a strong signal that diminished sea ice brought on by global warming has put U.S. bears at risk of drowning or dying from fatigue.

The Associated Press reports:

Summer sea ice last year shrunk to a record low, about 1.65 million square miles in September, nearly 40% less than the long-term average between 1979 and 2000 and most climate modelers predict a continued downward spiral, possibly with an Arctic Ocean that's ice free during summer months by 2030 or sooner.

Conservation groups fear that one consequence of less ice will be more energy-sapping, long-distance swims by polar bears trying to reach feeding, mating or denning areas.

The nine bears were spotted on a flight by a marine contractor, Science Applications International Corp., hired for the Minerals Management Service in advance of future offshore oil development.

The MMS in February leased 2.76 million acres within an offshore area slightly smaller than Pennsylvania.

To catch up on polar bear news around the world and their role in the ongoing controversy over the Endangered Species Act, check out L.A. Unleashed's archives.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

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Photo on top; bottom: World Wildlife Fund;Jonathan Hayward/Associated Press

2:46 PM, August 14, 2008

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Earlier this week, L.A. Unleashed posted that the Bush administration had proposed a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act that would allow federal agencies to decide on their own if their projects would affect animals protected by the act.

A Times editorial published today weighs in on the matter, criticizing the move on a variety of levels from the possibility of corruption to the timing of the proposal:

Because of a 30-day public comment period, instead of the usual 60 or 90 days, the rule could be adopted and in place before the presidential election. Though it might well be overturned by Congress, the courts or perhaps a new administration, the process would take months, giving federal agencies the chance to push through their projects.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

7:36 AM, July 17, 2008

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World famous polar bear Knut sticks out his tongue as he sits in his enclosure at the zoo in Berlin earlier this month. The bear, born in the zoo on Dec. 5, 2006, caused a global sensation when he survived rejection by his mother. He has attracted more than 2 million visitors and has been made a mascot for environmental care. Knut has also been a source of controversy, as an Associated Press story on the next page shows.

Photo: Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images

Read more Good morning »

4:14 PM, June 5, 2008

Police in Iceland say they fatally shot the first polar bear seen in the country in 20 years after the animal threatened people, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities say police in northern Iceland shot the bear Tuesday after determining that drugs that could be used to sedate the animal were unavailable and that a gun to fire them was elsewhere in the country.

It's not known how the polar bear reached Iceland; it may have come on an iceberg or swam. Scientists blame global warming for the disappearance of sea ice — vital for the bear's survival.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

2:34 PM, May 20, 2008

A_polar_bear_cub_plays_with_its_motConservation groups that sued to list polar bears as threatened are back in court, the Associated Press reports, taking aim at what they say is the animals' top threat -- greenhouse gas emissions that have led to the rapid melting of polar bear habitat: sea ice.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council announced today they have challenged administrative actions by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to keep greenhouse gas regulation off the table for a polar bear recovery plan. ...

In response to a court-ordered deadline last week, Kempthorne announced polar bears would be listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.

But echoing President Bush, he said he would not allow the Endangered Species Act to be "misused" to regulate global climate change.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not made a "causal connection" between development actions and loss of a polar bear, he said last week. ...

In court filings late Friday that amend their original lawsuit, the conservation groups asked U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland to reject Kempthorne's administrative actions and apply endangered species law to polar bears.

Photo: Daniel Maurer / Associated Press

11:31 AM, May 15, 2008

Polar_bear_4The Bush administration's decision to list polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act likely means more tourists will flock to a tiny Canadian town on Hudson Bay where bears are the star attraction every fall. Read all about the polar bears on the home page of the L.A. Times travel section.

Photo:Subhankar Banerjee/Associated Press

2:17 PM, May 14, 2008

Polar_bears_4 Polar bears, which have become a symbol in debate over global warming, today were added to the federal list of endangered species, the Times' Ken Weiss reports:

The Bush administration today designated the polar bear as threatened with extinction, making the big arctic bear, whose fate clings to shrinking sea ice, the first creature added to the endangered species list primarily because of global warming.

The designation invokes federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, the nation's most powerful environmental law that requires designation of critical habitat to be protected as well as forming a strategy to assist the bear population's recovery.

The decision came only after a U.S. District Court in Oakland forced the Bush administration's hand by imposing a May 15 deadline for the decision that was supposed to have been completed by Jan. 9.

It was the first time in more than two years that the Interior Department extended protections to another species under the Endangered Species Act -- the longest hiatus of new listings by the department since President Richard Nixon signed the law in 1973.

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, who announced the decision today, says in a news release that "this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting. Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective."

That seems to mean that the debate over listing polar bears and how protecting them might translate into policies to stem climate change is far from over. Nor are requests for even further protection.

As Weiss reports, U.S. conservation groups have already been urging the Interior Department to give the polar bear a higher designation, one of "endangered with extinction," rather than merely "threatened."

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: Jonathan Hayward/AP

9:58 AM, April 18, 2008

Polar_bears_still_await_decision

The Interior Department wants 10 more weeks to decide whether polar bears should be listed as threatened or endangered, a delay that conservation groups condemned as tied to the transfer of offshore petroleum leases in the animal's habitat, the Associated Press reports.

On Jan. 9, the department missed a deadline for a final decision, and three conservation groups sued. In the government response Thursday, Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty said the department needed until June 30 to complete a legal and policy review. A spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity immediately said that falls outside requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

"These are not questions for attorneys," said Kassie Siegel, the principal author on the petition seeking polar bear protections. "They're questions for scientists."

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Michael Latz/AFP/Getty Images

2:00 PM, April 8, 2008

Polar_bear_cub_flocke

Four-month-old polar bear cub Flocke (German for snowflake) tests the waters. She was introduced to the public today at a zoo in Nuremberg, southern Germany.

Photo: Oliver Lang/AFP/Getty Images

10:08 AM, April 3, 2008

Polar_bears_await_decision

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) pulled no punches Wednesday at a Senate hearing, criticizing Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for failing to appear before her panel to explain why the Bush administration delayed a decision on whether to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.

The deadline for a decision on listing Alaska's polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act was Jan. 9, the Associated Press reports. Conservation groups petitioned to list polar bears as threatened more than three years ago because their habitat, sea ice, is shrinking from global warming, many scientists say.

In a letter to Boxer, Kempthorne said he "respectfully" declined her invitation to appear before the Senate Environment Committee because he is a named defendant in a lawsuit over the polar bear listing filed by an environmental group.

"It's wrong that Mr. Kempthorne is not here," Boxer said after the hearing in Washington, which went on without an appearance from Kempthorne or any other administration official. "I like him, but it's wrong."

-Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Douglas C. Pizac/AP