The Polar Bear Challenge

Greens want the polar bear"s status to be upgraded from "threatened" to "endangered."© National Fish & Wildlife Service

The Bush administration finally agreed on May 14 to list the polar bear—whose sea ice habitat is shrinking fast as a result of global warming—as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. But there are strings attached. In announcing the administration’s long-awaited decision, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited huge declines in sea ice critical to the bears" survival over the last three decades as well as projections of further losses. But he stressed that it would be "inappropriate" to use the protection of the bear to mandate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or to broadly address climate change.

"While the legal standards under the Endangered Species Act compel me to list the polar bear as threatened, I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting," he told reporters, adding that he would not allow the listing to be "misused" to regulate carbon emissions.

Not surprisingly, the environmentalists who first forced the issue by suing to get the polar bear considered for listing back in 2005 are not giving in so easily. Three leading nonprofits, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have jointly filed suit in federal court to force the White House and its agencies to not only escalate the polar bear from threatened to fully endangered, but to also use its fate to force cutbacks in carbon emissions across the board.

CBD’s Kassie Siegel remarked that the administration’s proposal "violates both logic and the law" as it fails to address the primary threat to the species in question. "The administration’s attempts to reduce protection to the polar bear from greenhouse gas emissions are illegal and won’t hold up in court," she added.

Sources: Center for Biological Diversity; MSNBC: Polar Bear Listed as Threatened Species; MSNBC: Activists Sue Over Polar Bear Plan