Polar bears live in the Arctic and hunt seals and other fatty marine mammals from sea ice. They also travel, mate, and sometimes give birth on the ice.But sea ice is melting as the planet warms, and it is predicted to continue to do so for several more decades.
"Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are—in myjudgment—likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future," Kempthorne said.
Although many scientists say that human activity is directly responsible for the melting sea ice, the new polar bear protectionswill not change U.S. climate policy.
The U.S. classifies the polar bear as a marine mammal, which means that the bear's new threatened status will not stop oil exploration within its habitat. Huntingof polar bears as a food source by certain native people and trade in native handicrafts made from polar bears will also continue. However, importing polar bear products from Canada (where trophyhunting is legal) will be banned.
Scott Bergen is a landscape ecologist with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and a contributing author to U.S. Geological Survey studies released in 2007that found two-thirds of the world's polar bears could go extinct by 2050. He and other WCS staff are "almost elated" with the decision, he said.
"Even though it doesn't directly influence carbonemissions so to speak, we think it is a definite decision in the right direction and we're pleased to see the Fish and Wildlife Service is supporting the best science on this species," he added.
Bergennoted that saving the polar bear will depend on international cooperation. Permanent sea-ice habitat is likely to remain in areas outside of the U.S., particularly in Canada and Greenland....