Is the Polar Bear Threatened?

Judge rules that Interior Department has until May 15 to rule on Endangered Species Act.

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A polar bear.

The Interior Department has barely two weeks to issue a ruling on whether the polar bear qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act, a federal judge decided this week. As the New York Times reports, Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland, Calif., "rejected the government's contention that the case was too complicated to decide before June 30." Environmentalists argue that the melting of the Arctic icecap, which is reducing the polar bear's habitat, represents a serious threat to the species. The Times continues:

At a news conference earlier this month, the White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said environmentalists were inappropriately trying to use existing environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, to address climate change. The result, Ms. Perino said, would be a "regulatory train wreck."

In related news, a dozen advocacy groups sued the federal government this week to compel it to protect gray wolves in the Rockies under the Endangered Species Act. The feds had previously protected that population of the animal, but it withdrew its endangered status in March, according to the Associated Press.

As I blogged in late March, the current administration has been more reluctant than its recent predecessors to grant protection to species not already listed as threatened or endangered, and environmental groups have sued it in efforts to broaden the act's reach. A U.S. News photo gallery shows several of the species that one group seeks to protect. In several cases, climate change is one of the threats these species face.

Few scientists now doubt that climate change is occurring, according to a new survey. The best partial solution could be to use less energy, as U.S. News just pointed out in its cover story. Technological advances could help, too, as could widespread individual actions. My colleague Bret Schulte previously laid down 10 ways we can each combat global warming. They're not written in stone tablets, but perhaps they should be.