The Bush administration will decide whether nearly a dozen species of nonnative penguins will be included on the U.S. list of threatened and endangered species and whether a decline in populations is based in part on global warming.
"We found substantial information indicating that a listing may be warranted," said Ken Burton, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). "But it is important to note that protection of foreign species, if listed, is very indirect and very limited."
"It mainly prohibits importation of that particular critter and its parts if the penguin is listed, and that's a long, long 'if' it's listed — it's very much in the beginning stages."
Of the 1,300 plant and animal species already listed as threatened or endangered, nearly 700 are not native to the U.S., Mr. Burton said.
The request by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the species was made in November 2006 and finalized Wednesday in the Federal Register. The 10 species being reviewed live in a range of habitats in the Antarctic, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Chile and South Africa. The species include the emperor penguin, southern rockhopper penguin, northern rockhopper penguin, erect-crested penguin, macaroni penguin, white-flippered penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, African penguin and Humboldt penguin.
"These penguin species will march right into extinction unless greenhouse-gas pollution is controlled," said Kassie Siegel, director of the center's climate, air and energy program. "It is not too late to save them, but we have to seize available solutions to global warming right away."
The protective listing would "raise visibility and tell other countries that we believe these species are in trouble," Mr. Burton said. "It also means you could not import them unless you have a permit from us."
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is a critic of global warming claims and questions the benefits of endangered species listing.
His spokesman, Matt Dempsey, said the announcement "does raise concerns for Senator Inhofe, but the fact is this is just the beginning of a very long process."
"The FWS is taking a close look at commercial fishing, competition for prey, danger from nonnative predators, contaminants and pollution, making global warming last on a long list. That said, you can be sure Senator Inhofe will be watching the process very closely," he said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comment for 90 days, and then will initiate a yearlong process to determine whether the listing, is warranted.
The Center for Biological Diversity also says the penguins face threats from oil spills, marine pollution and the depletion of its prey — anchovy and krill — which they say was figured "prominently" in the computer-animated penguin movie "Happy Feet."
"While our greenhouse emissions melt away the penguins" world, our industrial fishing fleets are depleting the oceans of their food," said Brendan Cummings, director of the center's ocean program. "If penguins are to survive in a world dramatically altered by global warming, we must eliminate all other threats to these wonderful creatures."