Squeaking in under a Thursday deadline, the U.S. Department of the Interior officially made the decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The government's move appeared to have come somewhat grudgingly, in response to a judge's order to end five months of hemming and hawing.
As many as 25,000 polar bears roam the Arctic today. But that number is likely to drop drastically as the climate warms and perhaps two-thirds of the Arctic summer sea ice melts by 2050 (as the L.A. Times summarizes). Concern over the fate of polar bears escalated last year as sea-ice melting reached historic highs and the Northwest Passage opened for the first time ever. Polar bears hunt for seals by roaming vast expanses of sea ice; when confined to land, they are much more likely to go hungry.
The great bears have more worries than just global warming. In a northern-hemisphere parallel with pesticide-laden penguins we mentioned last week, polar bears in remote Svalbard have some of the highest organic pollutant levels measured in any animal.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne seemed to hold little enthusiasm for the idea of using the Endangered Species Act as a way to spur the U.S. to curb its emissions. At least his language was forceful, and he hit the larger predicament dead-on. According to the Washington Post:
I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting," Kempthorne said. "Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective.
(Image: Alaska Image Library/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)