NRDC Urges Administration to Protect Polar Bear as Endangered Species, Curb Global Warming Emissions

Scientists point to climate change as the main threat to polar bears and their habitat

Washington, D.C. (November 14, 2007) – As a result of dramatic sea ice retreat this summer and the smallest Arctic sea ice coverage ever recorded, the world’s wild polar bear populations are at risk of extinction if Arctic sea ice continues to shrink at current rates.
“Polar bears need protection now," said Andrew Wetzler, Director of the Endangered Species Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "Everything in their lives depends on the ice sheet, and that ice sheet is disappearing at an unprecedented rate due to global warming. If current pollution levels continue we simply will not recognize the Arctic anymore.”
Urgent action from the Bush administration is needed now to protect the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Unless action is taken, one of the world's most recognizable animals could be driven out of existence in our lifetime or the lifetime of our children. Zoos would be the only place where people would see polar bears.  
The Endangered Species Act is one of the world’s most powerful and successful laws when it comes to saving animals on the brink of extinction. Over 98 percent of the animals and plants protected by the Endangered Species Act are still alive today thanks, in large measure, to the safety net this Act provides.
There are 22,000 polar bears in the wild, but without action the U. S. Geological Survey predicts 11 of the 19 subpopulations will be extinct by the middle of this century, with an additional three subpopulations vanishing shortly thereafter. Other threats to the bears include contamination by toxic chemicals, poaching and industrial disturbances. Also, hunting could become a threat if populations are not well managed.
“We do not want zoos to be the only place where people can see polar bears,” said Stuart Strahl, President and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society. “The data is clear and compelling – action is needed now. We urge the Bush Administration to add polar bears to the Endangered Species List before the ice starts melting next year!”
Arctic sea ice extent reached a record low in September, almost 20 percent lower than previous record lows in September of 2005. The average Arctic sea ice extent for September, 2007 was about 40 percent below the average sea ice extent in September, 1979. According to researchers, there could be ice-free Arctic Septembers in 30-50 years, or even as early as 15 years from now.


Last December, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in response to a Petition brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC and other groups. They put a one year deadline on the final decision which will come out January 9, 2008.
During the initial two-month comment period, the Fish & Wildlife Service was flooded with more than 500,000 comments urging them to list the polar bears as threatened, an historic outpouring of public support for polar bears.
The likelihood of an ice-free Arctic -- and polar bear extinction -- depends heavily on how much more heat-trapping pollution is put in to the atmosphere. Our government's refusal to curb global warming pollution is a primary cause of the polar bear's melting habitat and terrible plight. It must be addressed. The Bush administration must act swiftly to finalize the listing of the polar bear and designate polar bears’ habitat as “critical habitat” for their protection. For more information, visit
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