Is the Bush Administration Stalling on the Polar Bear Question?

Cover Art from The Center for Biological Diversity's October 17, 2007 report.

The Center for Biological diversity, "Nature's Legal Eagles," has a dynamic counter on its website marking how long since the Bush administration's Department of Interior listed a species under Endangered Species Act. When I started this entry at 4:22 this afternoon, the time elapsed stood at 609 days, 6 hours and 22 minutes.

Probably, staff at the center had hoped to restart the clock by tomorrow, the legal deadline based on a December 27, 2006 announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its proposal to list the bears as “threatened.” The proposal resulted from a lawsuit filed under the Endangered Species Act by the Center, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Fund on December 15, 2005 charging that the administration had taken no action on theFebruary 16, 2005 scientific petition filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the polar bear as a threatened species.

But yesterday Fish and Wildlife announced they would miss the deadline, citing time needed to process responses to the U.S. Geological Survey report on the polar bears initiated by the possible listing and released September 7.

Future reduction of sea ice in the Arctic could result in a loss of 2/3 of the world's polar bear population within 50 years...In addition to forecasts, declines in habitat have been recorded throughout the Polar Basin over the past 20 years of observations.
Some are questioning what the delay has to do with oil drilling permits which might be reigned in by a listing. See "Groups cite oil leases in U.S. delay on rating polar bear's status," by Jane Kay in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

...Climate scientists predict that floating polar ice will disappear by midcentury, leaving the bear without food and habitat. Two-thirds of the population could disappear by 2050....In announcing the delay...[in meeting the legal deadline regarding endangered species status], Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall said... new U.S. Geological Survey studies on the size of the polar bear population and sea ice trends required an extended public comment period. The agency already has considered 670,000 comments on the listing... Environmental groups [and some members of Congress] fear that the polar bear decision has been purposefully delayed to allow a first-time oil lease sale to go forward Feb. 6 in Alaska's pristine Chukchi Sea, which provides one-tenth of the habitat for the world's polar bears.

This piece, although citing the Bush administration official, does not really provide his rebuttal of the criticism offered. None-the-less, it provides information on how to make your opinion known about the delay and exposes an example of possible tampering with science in order to improve the situation of business interests. See "Memos Tell Officials How to Discuss Climate," by Adnrew C. Revkin in the March 8, 2006 New York Times.