Polar bears in Alaska in April 2019. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)By Juliet Eilperin and Desmond ButlerSeptember 30, 2020 at 1:26 p.m. MDTAdd to list
A top official at the Interior Department has delayed the release of a study that shows how oil and gas drilling in Alaska could encroach upon the territory of polar bears — which are already struggling for survival as a warming planet melts their habitat — according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
In an unusual move, U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly has refused to make public the study, by his own scientists, of the number of female polar bears that den and give birth on land near the southern Beaufort Sea. That is the same area that overlaps with federal land the Trump administration has opened up to oil and natural-gas development.
The study has been ready for at least three months. But Reilly — a geologist by training and former astronaut — has questioned why it uses data collected by a former agency scientist now working for an advocacy group and why it does not count each polar bear den individually, among other things, according to internal memos obtained by The Post.