Alaskan polar bears moved one step closer to receiving federal protection under the Endangered Species Act on Tuesday. The Bush administration has been dithering for months about whether the bears need help, while handing out billions of dollars in oil and natural gas leases in prime polar bear habitat, as previously reported in Salon here and here. The Department of the Interior wanted to keep delaying until June 30 before making a decision about whether the bears, which depend on melting Arctic sea ice, deserve federal protection as a result of global warming.
Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that all this federal foot-dragging is illegal, ordering the Bush administration to make a decision about the bears' status by May 15 at the latest. The ruling was a victory for environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace, which had brought suit over the delays: “The federal court has thrown this incredible animal a lifeline,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the NRDC's endangered species project, in a statement. “The Endangered Species Act requires the decision to be based solely on science, and the science is absolutely unambiguous that the polar bear deserves protection.”