US Proposes to List the Polar Bear as an Endangered Species


In July, commenter Frank M. noted "One of the most affecting Global Warming images I've seen was a documentary on the subject that showed an emaciated polar bear struggling to survive among the crumbling ice."Today, we find out that our readers and documentary film makers aren't the only ones taking a close look at the plight of the polar bear: according to the Washington Post, the Department of the Interior planned to submit a proposal today for listing the iconic animal as an endangered species. Such proposals are fairly routine, but this has special significance: it would "...[put] the U.S. government on record as saying that global warming could drive one of the world's most recognizable animals out of existence":

Identifying polar bears as threatened with extinction could have an enormous political and practical impact. As the world's largest bear and as an object of children's affection as well as Christmastime Coca-Cola commercials, the polar bear occupies an important place in the American psyche. Because scientists have concluded that carbon dioxide from power-plant and vehicle emissions is helping drive climate change worldwide, putting polar bears on the endangered species list raises the legal question of whether the government would be required to compel U.S. industries to curb their carbon dioxide output. (my emphasis)

"We've reviewed all the available data that leads us to believe the sea ice the polar bear depends on has been receding," said the Interior official, who added that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have concluded that polar bears could be endangered within 45 years. "Obviously, the sea ice is melting because the temperatures are warmer."

Today's submissions of the proposal resulted not only from scientific evidence of the bear's precarious state, but also from a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace. The organizations claim the US government has dragged its feet in addressing the status of polar bears, and a lawyer for NRDC declared victory not only for the embattled bear, but for the broader recognition of the climate crisis as a reality.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has listed the proposed listing on the website of its Alaskan division, and notes that it anticipates publication of the proposal in the Federal Register on January 11, 2007. At that point, the 90-day public comment period will begin. We'll check back on this, and let you know when you may submit comments on the proposal. ::Washington Post, US Department of the Interior, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service - Alaska
Photo credit: Jonathan Hayward -- Associated Press
UPDATE: Do your part to help out polar bears and other species threatened by climate change: enter Treehugger and Seventh Generation's Convenient Truths contest.