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Feds designate critical habitat for polar bears

Global warming is main threat, but oil drilling plans could also be affected

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated more than 187,000 square miles of coastline, islands and sea ice as critical habitat for polar bears, recognizing that climate change threatens to drive the animals toward extinction. PHOTO BY SUSANNE MILLER, USFWS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Polar bears living in Alaska have something to be thankful for this week, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated about 187,000 square miles of on-shore barrier islands, denning areas and offshore sea-ice as critical habitat for the threatened polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.

In announcing the listing, the federal government plainly acknowledged that climate change threatens to destroy polar bear habitat, thus wiping out bear populations.

“This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations,” said Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “Nevertheless, the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of its sea ice habitat caused by human-induced climate change. We will continue to work toward comprehensive strategies for the long-term survival of this iconic species.”

The designation identifies geographic areas containing features considered essential for the conservation of the bear that require special management or protection.

For more information about the critical habitat final rule and other issues on polar bear conservation, please visit http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbears/criticalhabitat.htm. Continue reading

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