Yesterday the Bush Administration delayed a decisive decision as to whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. The feeling is that political meddling and its recent rush to sell oil leases in Arctic waters are behind the delay.

Federal law requires U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have made a final decision on protections for the bear by tomorrow, a year from when the agency first proposed that it be considered a threatened species. But that decision has now been delayed by a month.

Climate scientists predict that floating polar ice will disappear by midcentury, leaving the bear without food and habitat. Two-thirds of the population could disappear by 2050, scientists say. The bear is the first species that the agency has considered protecting because of threats posed by global warming.

But major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace, fear that the polar bear decision has been purposefully delayed to allow a first-time oil lease sale to go forward Feb. 6 in Alaska’s pristine Chukchi Sea, which provides one-tenth of the habitat for the world’s polar bears.

Andrew Wexler, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago, said, “The one-month delay comes at a time that is very fortuitous for oil and gas companies that want to drill in the Chukchi.”

People also fear any report will be re-written by George’s poodles to make the report a political dud. Ever heard that before?