Polar bear listed as threatened

The long-delayed listing of the polar bear as a threatened species was announced last week. But there’s little indication that such a listing might impede the oil and gas industry in the name of global warming and melting ice caps, as many environmentalists had hoped.

In a rare move regarding the Endangered Species Act, the Interior Department maintained that, under the listing, oil and gas exploration and development could continue in the bears’ habitat as long as companies complied with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way,” Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne said in his announcement.

Oil and gas companies, however, are concerned the listing will spark further litigation from environmental groups. The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit in 2005 over the lack of a listing for the polar bear. While the polar bear population is currently healthy, at more than 25,000 bears in the Arctic, the threat is the melting sea ice, which the bears depend upon for survival.