Judge Tosses Argument in Polar Bear Lawsuit

Environmentalists have moved one step closer to getting polar bears listed as endangered under U.S. law. A federal judge for the District of Columbia yesterday rejected a legal argument used by the Bush Administration in 2008 to argue that the polar bears are threatened but not endangered.

The Administration had argued that because the bear was not threatened with imminent extinction, it could only be listed as "threatened." (This status allowed the Administration to create a special rule exempting greenhouse gas emissions—which are, through global warming, melting the artic sea ice used by the polar bears for hunting—from regulation under the Endangered Species Act.)

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan found that argument doesn't hold water.

The law does not require imminent extinction for a species to be endangered, he concluded, and instructed the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its reasons for listing the bear as threatened. The Administration must respond by 23 December.

"The ruling opens the door for them to do the right thing," says Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, a plaintiff in the case. She hopes the department will decide to redo the listing and declare the polar bear endangered.