A federal judge in Oakland, Calif., has ordered the Interior Department to decide by May 15 if the polar bear should be protected as an endangered species because of melting sea ice due to global warming.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken decided, in a ruling released Tuesday that government failed to meet the deadline of Jan. 9, a legal requirement under the Endangered Species Act. She dismissed the Bush administration’s plea to give it until June 30, saying officials offered “no specific facts that would justify the existing delay, much less further delay.”
Wilken’s decision is a victory for three conservation groups that petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Interior Department, to protect the polar bear as a species threatened with extinction because of receding sea ice.
The polar bear makes its living hunting arctic seals when ice covers the polar seas. As the ice has retreated for longer periods every spring and summer, the fasting period for the bears has grown longer, weakening them and disrupting their reproduction.
Scientists have documented bears that have resorted to cannibalism and drowned between large gaps in the ice. In addition, reproductive rates for females and survival rates for cubs have declined, according to studies. The U.S. Geological Survey predicts that two-thirds of the polar bears may vanish with their melting habitat by 2050.