There's Oil in Them Thar Polar Bear Habitats!

The Bush Administration makes my head hurt. Just days before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to rule if the polar bear deserves Endangered Species Act protection, the U.S. Minerals Management Service has announced plans to sell oil and gas exploration rights in Alaska's Chukchi Sea -- one of just two polar bear habitats within United States territories.

Senator John Kerry was just one of the people criticizing this action, telling Reuters "It's the height of irresponsibility and short-sightedness for the Bush Administration to schedule lease sales in the Chukchi Sea, which represents critical habitat for polar bears, whales, walrus and threatened wildlife."

Environmentalists are, obviously, aghast. "The chances for the continued survival of this icon of the Arctic will be greatly diminished if its last remaining critical habitat is turned into a vast oil and gas field," said Margaret Williams, managing director of World Wildlife Fund's Kamchatka and Bering Sea Program, talking with the Associated Press.

Of course, not everyone wants the polar bear to be protected. Our cousins to the north (the Canadians) aren't happy that the U.S. wants to protect the "terror of the north" because it would have an impact on the native Inuit economy. American hunters pay $25k to hunt polar bears in the territory of Nunavut, a practice likely to dry up if the hunters can't bring the bear skins back with them when they return to the States. 

Rich hunters and richer oil companies. Could the polar bear face any worse threats?

More on this next week, when Fish and Wildlife announces its recommendations.

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