In a move that could influence the United States in its assessment of the polar bear's future on Earth, Canada has declared that it has a special concern for the icon of the Arctic, but that polar bears are not threatened with extinction, according to Reuters.
The Bush Administration has, for months (or years, depending on how you measure it), delayed a similar decision, and now faces a lawsuit to finally decide whether to declare polar bears threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
About two-thirds of the world's polar bears reside in Canada. Coincidentally, the U.S. Geologic Survey has warned that melting Arctic sea ice threatens two-thirds of the world's polar bears with extinction by mid-century.
The decision to protect, or not protect, the polar bear has huge policy implications for both countries. Not only does acknowledging the plight of the polar bear formally mean acknowledging the fact of global warming, but it would presumably require governments to do something about curtailing the pollution causing global warming. President Bush expressly ruled out making such broad policy decisions based on the Endangered Species Act (or the Clean Air Act, for that matter).
More directly, an "endangered" declaration would also curtail development of polar bear habitat in the Arctic by oil and gas companies. Ironically, global warming will open up some new territory to oil and gas exploration (at the same time that oil and gas machinery will have trouble getting around on some formerly frozen tundra).
Already, the Bush Administration has been accused of delaying its decision on polar bears long enough to sign new leases covering vast swaths of Arctic lands where polar bears, for now, still roam.
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