A newly released e-mail from last fall shows that Alaska's own biologists were at odds with the administration of Gov. Sarah Palin, which has consistently opposed any new federal protections for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.
The state's in-house dispute seems to refute later statements by Gov. Sarah Palin that a "comprehensive review" of the federal science by state wildlife officials found no reason to support an endangered-species listing for the northern bears. The governor invoked the state's own scientific work both in a cover letter to the state's official polar bear comments, and in an opinion piece published in the New York Times.
But the Oct. 9 e-mail, which was released this month to a University of Alaska scientist who had filed a public records request seeking information on the state's polar bear decision-making, shows that the head of the marine mammals program for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and two other staff biologists agreed with the conclusions of nine polar bear studies that the federal government was citing to justify a threatened-species listing for the bears.
"Overall, we believe that the methods and analytical approaches used to examine the currently available information supports the primary conclusions and inferences stated in these 9 reports," Robert Small wrote.
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Alaska officials have expressed concern that a threatened-species listing gives environmentalists more leverage to oppose oil and gas development in Arctic Alaska and poses risks to Native subsistence. The state's efforts to raise contrary scientific arguments have been met with derision by some environmentalists, who liken it to efforts from the tobacco industry to raise questions about the dangers of smoking and delay regulatory action.
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