WASHINGTON — The Interior Department declared the polar bear a threatened species Wednesday because of the loss of Arctic sea ice but also cautioned the decision should not be viewed as a path to address global warming.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited dramatic declines in sea ice over the last three decades and projections of continued losses, meaning, he said, that the polar bear is a species likely to be in danger of extinction in the near future.
But Kempthorne said it would be "wholly inappropriate" to use the protection of the bear to reduce greenhouse gases, or to broadly address climate change.
The Endangered Species Act "is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy," said Kempthorne, reflecting a view recently expressed by President Bush.
The department outlined a set of administrative actions and limits to how it planned to protect the bear with its new status so that it would not have wide-ranging adverse impact on economic activities from building power plants to oil and gas exploration.
"This listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting," said Kempthorne. He said he had consulted with the White House on the decision, but "at no time was there ever a suggestion that this was not my decision."