US misses second deadline on polar-bear protection

The United States has missed its own second deadline to decide if polar bears need protection from climate change, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Critics linked the delay to an oil-lease sale in a vast area of the bears' Arctic habitat.

The US Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service pushed to February 8 an earlier deadline to decide whether the animals should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The second deadline passed last week with no decision.

On February 6, however, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service sold oil and gas rights in roughly 12 million hectares in the Chukchi Sea, off the Alaskan coast, for US$2.66 billion. A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service called the timing "entirely coincidental".

A study by the US Geological Survey found last year that the approximately 16,000 polar bears in Alaska — which use sea ice as a platform for hunting food — could vanish if global warming trends continue.

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