US may declare polar bear “threatened”
The finding comes in response to a December lawsuit filed under the federal Endangered Species Act by three conservation groups.
Kassie Siegel, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said: "Federal officials have now acknowledged that global warming is transforming the Arctic, and threatening polar bears with extinction. It's not too late for polar bears if we act immediately to start cutting global warming emissions."
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Greenpeace filed the action against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to respond to the groups' petition to list polar bears under the law. A federal judge has scheduled a hearing in that case on March 17.
Just yesterday, the government's National Climatic Data Center announced that January temperatures in the United States were the warmest on record, beating the average figure by a full 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Two weeks ago, scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies confirmed that worldwide, 2005 was the hottest year ever recorded.
The Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) also recently concluded that the IUCN Red List classification of the polar bear should be upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable.
As temperatures rise, researchers say that arctic sea ice is forming later, breaking up earlier, and the area covered by it is shrinking. Dramatic changes have occurred in Alaska, where scientists with the US Minerals Management Service documented the drowning of at least four polar bears in September 2004 when the sea ice retreated a record 160 miles off the state's northern coast. The researchers said that more polar bears likely drowned than were spotted, and predict increases in such deaths as global warming advances.
Today's positive finding on the petition to list polar bears under the Endangered Species Act begins a comment period and full "status review" of the species, following which the federal government will decide whether to propose listing the polar bear as a threatened species.