U.S., Partners Announce First Conservation Management Plan for Polar Bear

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the Draft Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan (CMP) today, crafted by an unprecedented team of stakeholders from public, private and nonprofit sectors. The polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2008, due to loss of its sea ice habitat attributed to Arctic warming, and the CMP identifies immediate actions that can help protect the bear for the long term.

While the CMP lists several potential threats to the polar bear, the loss of sea-ice is projected to lead to decreased or greatly decreased populations in three of the four polar bear “ecoregions” by 2050. That projection is based on a scientific model from 2008 that has been updated to include two possible scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions this century. One scenario models increasing greenhouse gas emissions at the current rate, and the other models emissions leveling off by about mid-century and then declining. Outcomes for polar bear populations are projected to worsen over time through the end of the century under both scenarios, but the long-term persistence of polar bears may be possible if global greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized at or below the modeled level.

In addition to drawing attention to the threat climate change poses to polar bears, 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.
“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.”

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. “Our people are natural While the ESA requires the development of recovery plans for listed species, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, under which the polar bear is also managed, calls for listed species to be restored to “optimum sustainable populations.” The Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan is intended to meet the provisions of both laws.

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.
The Plan is available at http:// www.fws.gov/alaska/pbrt or at Regulations.gov (see instructions below). Comments will be accepted through August, 20, 2015.

You may submit written comments by one of the following methods:
• 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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