Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Polar Bears to Be Threatened

The Interior Department has decided to list the polar bear as a threatened species. It is the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act due to the threat of climate change. This is also the first listing announced since Kempthorne became Secretary of Interior in 2006. (Remember, the department has changed the rules so that species have to meet an excessively high standard to be listed.)

Today's decision cites the loss of Arctic sea ice as a cause of the polar bear's decline in recent years. Government studies predict that two-thirds of the polar bear population could disappear by mid century. Still, Kempthorne doesn't want anyone to get any crazy ideas:

But the designation will come with a qualifier: an administrative letter that will have conditions to "keep from harming the economy."

Kempthorne said that the Endangered Species Act shouldn't be used to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and that the listing will not "set backdoor climate policy."

"That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the ESA," Kempthorne said.

"This listing will not stop global climate change or prevent sea ice from melting."
Without such regulation of emissions, it remains to be seen what practical effect this listing will have.

Update: It appears that the polar bear is not the first listed species whose decline is caused by climate change. Press releases from 2006 cite warmer ocean temperatures as a reason for listing elkhorn and staghorn corals, two Caribbean species.