Based on a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an Arizona-based environmental group, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has embarked on a formal review to determine whether or not polar bears should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to their sea ice habitat melting as a result of global warming. CBD says the polar bears now roaming America’s Arctic could be extinct by the end of the century without stemming the tide of ice pack loss.
“Federal officials have now acknowledged that global warming is transforming the Arctic, and threatening polar bears with extinction,” says CBD’s Kassie Siegel. “It’s not too late for polar bears if we act immediately to start cutting global warming emissions.”
For its part, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to agree with the CBD’s position on the issue thus far, concluding that the petition “presents substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that listing the polar bear may be warranted.” Agency biologists are currently in the middle of a two-month long review of the polar bears’ population distribution and habitat, with a focus on the potential effects of climate change on the species and its prey, as well as threats from development, contaminants and poaching. The agency will most likely announce its final decision in April.
If polar bears are listed, the repercussions could include forcing the federal government to take action against the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming—something the Bush administration has been loathe to do since it took office six years ago and refused to sign onto the Kyoto climate change agreement. Environmentalists are watching closely, hopeful that the Endangered Species Act can be leveraged to motivate national action on the global warming front.