Author: Reed Hopper
At the October, 2010, hearing involving multiple challenges to the listing of the polar bear as a "threatened" species, including a suit by the Pacific Legal Foundation, the judge determined he could not resolve the case until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explained how it interpreted the term "in danger of extinction." That term is pivotal because a species will be deemed "endangered" only if it is "in danger of extinction," whereas, it will be deemed "threatened" only if it is likely to become "endangered" within the foreseeable future. Therefore, the judge remanded the case back to the agency to provide its explanation. Today, the Service responded here.
According to the Service, the term "in danger of extinction" means "currently on the brink of extinction in the wild." Based on that interpretation, the Service reaffirmed its determination that the polar bear is "threatened" and not "endangered" because there has been no precipitous decline in overall population. This interpretation is likely to be upheld by the judge and suggests that the risk of extinction must be imminent to warrant "endangered" status. This is a severe blow to environmentalists who have argued that the risk need not be imminent and the polar bear should have been listed as "endangered" not "threatened."
Whether this interpretation is sufficient to support the "threatened" listing will be the subject of an additional hearing scheduled in the D.C. District Court on February 23, 2011.