From: Associated Press
Published December 27, 2006 12:00 AM

Polar Bears May Be Listed As Threatened

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, under legal pressure from three environmental groups, will propose listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, The Washington Post reported.


Interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne scheduled a news conference Wednesday to discuss the status of the animals.


The Post, quoting an Interior Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement, said the department would submit the proposal Wednesday for publication in the Federal Register.


After then would be subject to public comment for 90 days.


"We've reviewed all the available data that leads us to believe the sea ice the polar bear depends on has been receding," the Post quoted the Interior official as saying. "Obviously, the sea ice is melting because the temperatures are warmer."


It further quoted the official as saying Fish and Wildlife Service officials have concluded that polar bears could be endangered within 45 years.


Once a species is listed as threatened, the government is barred from doing anything to jeopardize the animal's existence or its habitat. In the case of the polar bear, environmentalists hope to force the government to curb emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that can contribute to global warming.


Responding to a lawsuit filed on Dec. 15, 2005, by three environmental groups, the department's Fish and Wildlife Service announced in February that it was launching a review of the bears and that a change to threatened may be warranted.


The Post reported on its Internet site Tuesday evening that by submitting the proposal Wednesday, the government would be meeting a deadline under a legal settlement with the three groups that sued: the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace.


Their suit last year argued that the government, which has been examining he status of polar bears for more than two years, was moving too slowly.


The giant carnivores are estimated to number between 22,000 and 25,000 worldwide with populations existing in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia.


While their population has been stable in recent years the bears face threats from global warming, environmental contamination and potential overhunting.


In Alaska, only Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos who live in coastal are permitted to hunt the bears, which they can use for meat and in making native handicrafts.


Source: Associated Press


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