The federal government announced plans today to list several penguin species as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, but wildlife advocates say the protections do not go far enough.
The U.S. Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service identified the African penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, white-flippered penguin, Fiordland crested penguin, Humboldt penguin and erect-crested penguin as needing protection, along with a portion of the range of the southern rockhopper penguin.
The decision comes after several years of legal wrangling between the U.S. government and the Center for Biological Diversity, a wildlife advocacy group that had originally sought protection for a dozen penguin species because of the impacts of global warming and other environmental threats.
The government refused, however, to grant protections to several other species including the emperor penguin made famous in the films "March of the Penguins" and "Happy Feet."
Recent research led by penguin researcher David Ainley projected that a global temperature increase of two degrees would wipe out 50 percent of emperor penguin colonies in parts of Antarctica as ice packs melted away.
Although the government finding did not discount the likelihood that sea ice changes would eventually reduce emperor penguin habitat, it cited current conditions, the stability of emperor populations and uncertainty of climate models in its decision.
"We conclude that there is not sufficient evidence to find that climate-change effects to the habitat of the emperor penguin will threaten the emperor penguin within the foreseeable future," the finding concluded.
Listing under the Endangered Species Act could affect how U.S. agencies operate in penguin habitat, from the greenhouse gas emissions emitted from ships to how shrimp-like krill -- a staple penguin food -- is harvested in fisheries.
The Center for Biological Diversity says it will likely go to court to seek protection for the emperor and other species the government didn't list.
"This is [a] species that is most ice dependent, that is likely to be most impacted by global warming," said Brendan Cummings with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Refusing to take action on the emperor penguin equates to business-as-usual climate policy from the Bush administration."
Phone calls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were not immediately returned.