Polar bears reviewed to become "threatened" species

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A family of polar bears.

The United States is giving some thought to adding polar bears to the list of threatened species. The proposal to list polar bears has resulted from a lawsuit settlement the Bush administration reached in February with Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council,[1] and a decsion was to be made 12 months after that settlement, based on the Endangered Species Act petition process[2].

"Today the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. We are making this proposal because a scientific review of the species by the Fish and Wildlife service found that populations may be threatened by receding sea ice, which polar bears use as a platform for many activities essential to their life cycle, including hunting for their main prey, Arctic seals," said Dirk Kempthorne, the Secretary of the Interior in the U.S.

"[Polar bears are] one of nature's ultimate survivors, but we are concerned the polar bears' habitat may literally be melting," added Kempthorne.

"[We have never had a species] listed with such a close correlation to climate change as this one," said an attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council, Andrew Wetzler.

"Global warming is the single biggest threat to polar bears' survival, and this will require the government to address the impacts on the polar bear," added Wetzler.

The "threatened" category encompasses "vulnerable," "endangered," and "critically endangered." Currently, polar bears are listed as "vulnerable" under the World Conservation Union.

Although the United States Fish & Wildlife Service makes no formal mention of increasing or decreasing polar bear population within US borders or worldwide, it is estimated that there are between 22,000 and 25,000 polar bears living[3], some 4,700 are living in the state of Alaska[4], and about 15,000 live in Canada[5][6].