The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take up to another month before it decides whether polar bears should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency was scheduled to issue a decision this week, but new research has delayed sending its recommendation to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, said Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Valerie Fellows.
"We expect to provide a final recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior and finalize the decision within the next month," she said in a statement.
Environmental groups said they intend to sue to force the government to come to a quick decision. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace plan to file a suit Wednesday -- the day the decision was supposed to be issued.
"We certainly hope that the polar bear will be listed within the next month. But this is an administration of broken promises, from Bush's campaign pledge to regulate greenhouse gases to Secretary Kempthorne's failure to list a single species under the Endangered Species Act in the last 607 days," said Kassie Siegel, the climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Fellows said that the delay in the decision-making process came after scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey supplied new information in September about sea ice trends and the effect on the world polar bear population.
The study found that within the next 50 years, shrinking sea ice would leave a small surviving population of the world's polar bears in the islands of the Canadian Arctic. Scientists said that two-thirds of the world's polar bears, including those along the coasts of Alaska and Russia, would likely have disappeared. Scientists also said that regional efforts to protect polar bears -- such as restricting oil and gas development or subsistence hunting -- would not be enough to prevent their disappearance.
The study's findings prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to reopen and extend the period that people can comment on whether to list the bears as threatened, Fellows said. The agency received numerous comments, including from the State of Alaska, and decided it needed more time to adequately evaluate and incorporate everything it received.