from The Washington Post:
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne listed polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act yesterday, saying the loss of Arctic sea ice in a warming climate could drive them to the brink of extinction in less than four decades.
Although the Bush administration handed environmentalists a victory they had sought for more than three years, Kempthorne said he would ensure that his decision did not “open the door” for activists to force the adoption of limits on greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.
The act “is not the right tool to set U.S. climate-change policy,” he said in a news conference. “This has been a difficult decision. But in light of the scientific record and the restraints of the inflexible law that guides me, I believe it was the only decision I could make.”
The decision to list polar bears, which have become the iconic symbol of global warming’s impact, highlights how an administration opposed to mandatory cuts in emissions has begun to acknowledge the growing evidence of their effects. Kempthorne pointed to satellite images of shrinking Arctic sea ice that has outpaced scientists’ most dire projections. Polar bears use sea ice as a platform to hunt ringed seals and other prey.
“The fact is that sea ice is receding in the Arctic, as you can see, when we have looked at what is actually happening in the Arctic, we have found considerably less sea ice than the models are projecting. Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future — in this case, 45 years.”