The Interior Department has decided to protect the polar bear as a threatened species because of the decline in Arctic sea ice from global warming, officials said Wednesday. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne scheduled a news conference to announce the action. It comes a day before a court-imposed deadline on deciding whether the bear should be put under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The department, in deciding to list the bear as threatened, will cite studies by its own scientists that the decline of Arctic sea ice off Alaska and Canada could result in two-thirds of the polar bears disappearing by mid-century, said federal officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.
Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe declined to comment ahead of the formal announcement.
This is the first time that the Endangered Species Act has been used to protect a species threatened by the impacts of global warming. There has been concern within the business community that such action could have far-reaching impact and could be used to regulate carbon dioxide.