Alaska Oil Drilling and the Po­lar Bear

The Washington Post - - Washington In Brief -

A de­ci­sion on whether to pro­tect Alaska’s po­lar bears un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act may not come be­fore the gov­ern­ment opens a ma­jor bear habi­tat to oil leases next week, though staff rec­om­men­da­tions are com­pleted, the chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice said yes­ter­day. H. Dale Hall, the agency’s di­rec­tor, faced sharp crit­i­cism at a Se­nate hear­ing from law­mak­ers who ac­cused the In­te­rior De­part­ment of stalling to make it eas­ier for oil com­pa­nies to ob­tain drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea, where a fifth of the Arc­tic’s po­lar bears de­pend on sea ice in their hunt for food.

An­other In­te­rior De­part­ment agency, the Min­er­als Man­age­ment Ser­vice, plans to open a large area of the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas leases Feb. 6.

The Chukchi Sea is home to one of two U.S. po­lar bear pop­u­la­tions, and sci­en­tists say global warm­ing is caus­ing se­ri­ous melt­ing of Arc­tic sea ice, the bear’s pri­mary habi­tat. The de­part­ment pro­posed the pos­si­bil­ity of list­ing the bear as threat­ened — trig­ger­ing greater fed­eral pro­tec­tion — more than a year ago. The de­ci­sion could have broad im­pli­ca­tions be­cause pro­tect­ing the bear’s habi­tat could mean find­ing ways to re­duce ice melt­ing.

Hall said he could not prom­ise a de­ci­sion be­fore Feb. 6, only that a rec­om­men­da­tion on the bear will be sent to In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Dirk Kempthorne “in the very near fu­ture.”

STEVE AM­STRUP —AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A fed­eral de­ci­sion on list­ing the po­lar bear as en­dan­gered won’t come be­fore drilling be­gins.

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