Judge Gives Bush Deadline for Polar Bear Decision

A federal judge has found the Bush administration guilty of violating the Endangered Species Act and ordered the administration to issue a final listing decision for the polar bear by May 15.

The polar bear's Arctic sea ice habitat has been melting faster than was expected.

The Hon. Claudia Wilkin ruled for the plaintiffs -- Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace -- on all issues in finding that the Bush administration violated the law by missing the deadline for a final polar bear decision by nearly four months. The court order, issued April 28, requires the administration to publish a final decision in the Federal Register by May 15, and for the decision to take effect immediately. This decision is the result of a petition by the groups, initially submitted in 2005, to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.

"Today's decision is a huge victory for the polar bear," said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the 2005 petition seeking the Endangered Species Act listing.

The Interior Department had requested a June 30 deadline but the court disallowed further delay, stating: "Defendants offer no specific facts that would justify the existing delay, much less further delay."

"The federal court has thrown this incredible animal a lifeline," said Andrew Wetzler, director of NRDC's Endangered Species Project. "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."

Since the petition to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act was first filed, new science paints a dim picture of the polar bear's future. In September, the U.S. Geological Survey predicted that two-thirds of the world's polar bear population would likely be extinct by 2050, including all polar bears within the United States. Several leading scientists now predict the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer as early as 2012.

Listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act guarantees federal agencies will be obligated to ensure that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out will not jeopardize the polar bears' continued existence or adversely modify their critical habitat, and the Fish and Wildlife Service will be required to prepare a recovery plan for the polar bear, specifying measures necessary for its protection.

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