Companies get OK to annoy polar bears

June 16, 2008 4:57:34 AM PDT
After being declared a threatened species by the Bush administration last month, polar bears are facing a new challenge from oil companies preparing to hunt for oil and natural gas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has issued regulations providing legal protection for seven companies planning to search for oil and gas in the waters off northwestern Alaska. The protection covers the companies if "small numbers" of polar bears or Pacific walruses are incidentally harmed by their activities over the next five years.

Environmentalists say the new regulations give companies a blank check to harass the bears. The Fish and Wildlife Service counters that the exploration will have a negligible effect on their population.

About 2,000 of the 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic live in and around the area under discussion.