Penguin Protection Falls Short

Antarctica"s famed Emperor penguins are not up for endangered species listing and protection.© Samuel Blanc

The Bush administration moved to add seven species of penguins to its list of endangered species. But critics worry that the effort amounts to little more than greenwashing. Since penguins live so far from mainland America, listing them is unlikely to ruffle any feathers among developers, farmers or other users of the land typically upset by restrictive endangered species listings in their backyards. Also, environmentalists complain that the Bush administration failed to list three other penguin species—including the Emperors made famous by the March of the Penguins movie—whose dwindling numbers have been linked to global warming.

"Right now penguins are marching towards extinction due to the impacts of global warming," Shaye Wolf, a seabird biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, told reporters. "Protecting penguins under the Endangered Species Act is an essential step toward saving them. For the species proposed for listing, today’s decision is an important step forward. However, for the Emperor penguin, it is a step closer to extinction."

The Bush administration acknowledges that the new penguin listings won’t impact most Americans, but says it will give the U.S. increased leverage in international negotiations to strengthen protections of marine ecosystems. As for the Emperors and other unlisted species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency in charge of carrying out administration policy, reports that there is not enough evidence to list them as threatened.

"There are certainly issues with those species," said Kenneth Stansell, Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director. "But we did not believe at this time that the populations were reduced or that there were significant threats to lead us to make a determination that they are threatened with extinction."

Sources: Biological Diversity; MSNBC; Samuel Blanc Photography