Polar bears are in deep trouble because of global warming and other factors and deserve federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, the Bush administration is proposing Wednesday.
Pollution and over hunting also threaten their existence. Greenland and Norway have the most polar bears, but almost 5,000 live mainly in Alaska and travel to Canada and Russia.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne plans to announce later Wednesday that polar bears should be listed as a ?threatened? species on the government list of imperilled species, a department official confirmed Wednesday. The ?endangered? category is reserved for species more likely to become extinct.
Such a decision would prevent the U.S. government from allowing any activity that could jeopardize polar bears or the sea ice where they live. Thinner sea ice reduces the amount of food polar bears can find, including ice seals that are their main prey.
Environmentalists hope that invoking the Endangered Species Act protections eventually might provide impetus for the government to cut back on its emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping ?greenhouse? gases that are warming the atmosphere.
The proposed listing also marks a potentially significant departure for the administration from its cautious rhetoric about the effects of global warming.
President Bush’s steadfast refusal to go along with United Nations-brokered mandatory controls on carbon dioxide, the chief global warming gas, has contributed to international tension between the United States and other nations.