Polar Bear Listed in Endangered Species Act, but U.S. Government Limits Its Protection
The polar bear was officially listed as threatened under the U.S. endangered species act (ESA) on May 14, 2008. This the first creature brought under the act's protection for habitat loss that is linked to global warming. The official reason given was loss of Arctic sea ice and predictions that the ice will continue to decrease. Although global warming has been identified by most atmospheric and polar scientists as the main reason for Arctic warming and melting of sea ice, the U.S. Interior Department did not use this as a reason and clearly signaled it would not apply the law to greenhouse gas emissions.
Dirk Kempthorne, Interior Secretary, specifically said the listing would not prevent any sea ice from melting and that he would "make certain the ESA isn't abused to make global warming policies." This despite clear language in the ESA to control any activity causing harm to a listed species and requiring government agencies specifically not to jeopardize species by their actions. The wording of the listing document appears to be an attempt of the government to list the bear due to clear evidence of shrinking habitat yet not take all the steps to limit the loss. It seems analogous to President Bush's notorious "signing statements" limiting his acceptance of a Congressional law.
This could set up another court challenge by NGOs like the Center for Biological Diversity which originally brought the proposal and took the Interior Dept to court twice to get action.
"Threatened" under the ESA means a plant or animal may soon become endangered (at immediate risk of going extinct) if actions are not taken to protect it and its habitat.See inside for more details on Arctic melting and polar bear habitat