Prey vs. predator

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drags its feet on a petition to list the polar bear as a threatened or endangered species, the agency is now considering listing certain members of its prey: ice seals.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is reviewing four species of ice seals—ribbon, ringed, spotted and bearded—which are losing habitat as sea ice recedes. In September, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that “future reduction of sea ice in the Arctic could result in a loss of two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population within 50 years.”

Meanwhile, the USFWS was expected to announce a recommendation whether to list polar bears as threatened three months ago. The Center for Biological Diversity, which submitted the original petition to list the polar bear in February 2005, joined other groups last month in suing USFWS for its sluggishness.

The groups say the Bush administration is intentionally delaying the polar bear decision. To list the polar bear—or the ice seal, for that matter—as threatened or endangered would trigger a recovery plan that could affect oil and natural gas leases in the species’ habitats, as well as require the government to address the causes of global warming.