The US Fish and Wildlife Service released its Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan (CMP) yesterday to mixed reactions. Some applauded it for its carefully considered actions, while others suggested it wasn’t prepared to tackle the bears’ biggest threat: climate change.
The report outlines actions that will help the bears’ survival in the wild in the short-term, while also acknowledging that the primary threat to polar bears – the rising temperatures in the Arctic – will entail longer-term actions.
“This plan outlines the necessary actions and concrete commitments by the Service and our state, tribal, federal and international partners to protect polar bears in the near term,” said Greg Siekaniec, the service’s Alaska regional director, in a statement. “But make no mistake; without decisive action to address Arctic warming, the long-term fate of this species is uncertain.”
The CMP will focus on the two known subpopulations of bears that live off the coast of Alaska. With input from government agencies, scientific experts, and Native Alaskan communities, the plan calls for collaboratively managing subsistence harvesting, protecting known dens, minimizing the risk of contaminating habitats from oil spills, and reducing human-animal conflict.
Polar bears are the largest land carnivores in the world, with an estimated population between 22,000 and 25,000 across the Arctic, including Alaska, Canada, Norway, Greenland, and Russia. They rely on sea ice to roam, catch prey such as seals, and raise their young.
They were also the first species to be declared endangered directly due to climate change back in 2008, and with the rapid loss of sea ice due to the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, their plight hasn’t let up since.
November 2016 recorded the lowest sea ice extent since records began in 1979. FloridaStock/Shutterstock