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Polar bears are now endangered species

May 14, 2008 |  2:17 pm

Polar_bears_4 Polar bears, which have become a symbol in debate over global warming, today were added to the federal list of endangered species, the Times' Ken Weiss reports:

The Bush administration today designated the polar bear as threatened with extinction, making the big arctic bear, whose fate clings to shrinking sea ice, the first creature added to the endangered species list primarily because of global warming.

The designation invokes federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, the nation's most powerful environmental law that requires designation of critical habitat to be protected as well as forming a strategy to assist the bear population's recovery.

The decision came only after a U.S. District Court in Oakland forced the Bush administration's hand by imposing a May 15 deadline for the decision that was supposed to have been completed by Jan. 9.

It was the first time in more than two years that the Interior Department extended protections to another species under the Endangered Species Act -- the longest hiatus of new listings by the department since President Richard Nixon signed the law in 1973.

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, who announced the decision today, says in a news release that "this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting. Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective."

That seems to mean that the debate over listing polar bears and how protecting them might translate into policies to stem climate change is far from over. Nor are requests for even further protection.

As Weiss reports, U.S. conservation groups have already been urging the Interior Department to give the polar bear a higher designation, one of "endangered with extinction," rather than merely "threatened."

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: Jonathan Hayward/AP

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