Polar Bears Finally Given Threatened Species Status
The Interior Department has decided to protect the
polar bear as a threatened species because of the decline in Arctic
sea ice from global warming, officials said Wednesday.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne scheduled a news conference
to announce the action. It comes a day before a court-imposed deadline
on deciding whether the bear should be put under the protection
of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The department, in deciding to list the bear as threatened, will
cite studies by its own scientists that the decline of Arctic sea
ice off Alaska and Canada could result in two-thirds of the polar
bears disappearing by mid-century, said federal officials who spoke
on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.
Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe declined to comment
ahead of the formal announcement.
This is the first time that the Endangered Species Act has been
used to protect a species threatened by the impacts of global warming.
There has been concern within the business community that such
action could have far-reaching impact and could be used to regulate
But the decision includes provisions that specifically are aimed
at protecting power plants and other energy-related entities, said
an official who was familiar with the decision.
Kempthorne proposed 15 months ago to investigate whether the polar
bear should be declared threatened under the Endangered Species
That triggered a year of studies into the threats facing the bear
and its survival prospects at a time when scientists predict a
continuing warming and loss of Arctic sea ice. The Arctic sea ice
serves as a primary habitat for the bear and is critical to its
survival, scientists say.
"The science is absolutely clear that polar bear needs protection
under the Endangered Species Act," said Andrew Wetzler, director
of the endangered species program at the Natural Resources Defense
A decision had been expected by early January, but the Interior
Department said it needed more time to work out many of the details,
prompting criticism from members of Congress and environmentalists.
Environmentalists filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing a decision and
a federal court on April 29 set a May 15 deadline for a decision.