‘Polar bear conservation requires a global commitment to curb the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere …’
FRISCO — The only thing that will save polar bears in the long run is a big cut in global greenhouse gas emissions, federal biologists said last week as the rolled out a draft recovery plan for the Arctic predators.
Polar bears were the first species to be listed as endangered because of the direct threat of global warming. As Arctic sea ice continues to shrink, bear populations will decline, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Even if greenhouse gas emissions level off by 2050, polar bears will likely continue face ever-more challenging conditions through the end of the century.
“Polar bear conservation requires a global commitment to curb the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Geoffrey Haskett. “Until that happens, we’re going to do everything within our power to give the polar bear a chance to survive. That’s what this plan’s about.”
In addition to drawing attention to the climate change threat, the plan outlines actions to better manage subsistence harvest, minimize risks of contamination from oil and chemical spills, protect denning habitat from human disturbance and industrial activity, deter human-bear conflicts and conduct research.
It will also serve as the United States’ contribution to an action plan being developed by the five polar bear range countries – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russian Federation, and the U.S. – under the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears.
Wildlife conservation advocates said the draft plan doesn’t go far enought because it fails to recommend sufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions to ensure the bear’s survival or a specific plan for achieving those reductions.
“When it comes to the carbon pollution melting the polar bears’ Arctic world, this plan just shrugs and hopes for the best,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Noblin said the Obama administration’s approval of Arctic drilling undermines the plan’s stated goal of polar bear recovery. The plan also fails to address the fact that polar bears currently have no critical habitat protections.
The United States protected polar bears as “threatened” in 2008 in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity. Two polar bear populations live in Alaska, and a 2015 study found one population, in the Southern Beaufort Sea, had declined by 40 percent over 10 years.
The status of the other population, in the Chukchi, remains “data deficient.” A 2014 U.S. Geological Survey analysis shows both populations are likely to be in the highest risk category of “greatly decreased” by mid-century under current greenhouse gas emission levels.
Polar bears are significant in Alaska Native culture, and representative organizations helped in both drafting the CMP and in the call to action to preserve polar bear populations.
“In the words of our founder Charles Johnson, when we lose polar bears, we also lose our cultures,” said Jack Omelak, Executive Director of the Alaska Nanuuq Commission.
The actions identified in the draft plan are aimed at managing U.S. populations of polar bears in Alaska, which occur in one of four polar bear ecoregions.
The draft Plan was written by a team of more than 30 individuals from federal agencies, the State of Alaska, the North Slope Borough, Alaska Native organizations, industry, non-profit organizations, and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Team members have expertise in polar bear biology, climate science, policy, communications, and traditional and contemporary indigenous ecological knowledge.
Submit written comments by:
• U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, ATTN: FWS-R7-ES-2014-0060. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803; or
• Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov, search Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2014-0060 and follow the instructions for submitting comments.
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