U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan (left) wants the Interior Department to clarify a decision by the administration of the former President George W. Bush that polar bears were merely threatened rather than in imminent danger of extinction.
Dirk Kempthorne, the former Interior Secretary, said in May 2008 that the bears were on the way to extinction because global warming was causing the rapid disappearance of the Arctic Sea ice upon which they depend. But he stopped short of declaring them endangered, which had it been declared would have increased protections for the bear and make oil and gas exploration more difficult
Along with the listing, Mr Kempthorne created a "special rule" stating that the Endangered Species Act would not be used to set climate policy or limit greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming and melting ice in the Arctic Ocean.
The Obama administration upheld the Bush-era policy, declaring that the endangered species law cannot be used to regulate greenhouse gases emitted by sources outside of the polar bears' habitat.
However, if the bears are found to be endangered that could over-ride that ruling.
The judge said that the administration had about 30 days to explain how it arrived at its decision.
A lawyer for an environmental group called Mr Sullivan's action "good news for the bear," adding that the popular animal's fate was now in the hands of the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar.
"The court is not accepting the Fish and Wildlife Service argument that extinction must be imminent before the bear is listed as endangered," said Kassie Siegel, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based group that challenged the polar bear listing.
London Telegraph, "Barack Obama to review polar bears", accessed October 22, 2010