(CNSNews.com) - The International Fund for Animal Welfare on Tuesday filed a petition with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect two North Pole caribou species under the Endangered Species Act.
“Currently, the habitat of Peary and Dolphin-Union caribou is threatened by rapid climate change and increased frequency of severe weather patterns which prevent them from foraging for food,” IFAW said in a news release.
The group says the overall number of Peary caribou has declined 84 percent, from almost 50,000 in the 1960s to less than 7,800 at the turn of the 21st century.
"With living conditions worsening, these caribou are literally starving to death," said Nathan Herschler, IFAW legal fellow and lead author of the petition. "Populations are severely dwindling, and the way we manage climate change will likely determine the fate of this important species.”
Listing the caribou species under the Endangered Species Act will not only bring international awareness to the plight of these species, but also will restrict the importation of the animal and its parts, IFAW said.
The polar bear was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act on May 14, 2008. Activists argue that polar bears also are threatened by global warming, which is melting the Arctic sea ice where the bears hunt for seals, their primary food source.
But as CNSNews.com previously reported, some scientists argue that polar bear populations actually have increased since hunting restrictions were initiated in the early 1970s. (See earlier story)
But climate change remains a primary concern for environmental activists. "Climate change has had detrimental effects across the board for arctic animals that rely on sea ice and stable seasonal weather conditions," said Jeff Flocken, director of IFAW’s Washington, D.C., office. "Species such as Peary and Dolphin-Union caribou are in real jeopardy as a result. It is our hope that this petition leads to real protections for this beautiful arctic species."
IFAW also noted that in addition to habitat change and global warming, the extinction of Peary and Dolphin-Union caribou populations could be accelerated by threats from predation, over-hunting, lack of genetic diversity, inter-species competition and disease.
The federal government has until December 14, 2009 to respond to the petition to protect Arctic reindeer.
The Endangered Species Act provides civil and criminal penalties for actions that kill or injure threatened animals such as polar bears, and the law bars federal agencies from taking actions that are likely to jeopardize the species or adversely modify its critical habitat.
However, Obama administration Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has made it clear that the law will not be used as a back-door way to curtail global warming.
“We must do all we can to help the polar bear recover, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change,” Salazar said earlier this year.
“However, the Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions. Instead, we need a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts – including the loss of sea ice. Both President Obama and I are committed to achieving that goal,” Salazar said in May 2009.