Thursday, April 30, 2009

Big, White & Beautiful

The Polar Bear
All information pertaining to the polar bear has been copied from the WWF Website.

Common Name: Polar bear Ours blanc; ours polaire (Fr); Oso polar (Sp)
Scientific Name: Ursus maritimus
Habitat: Arctic
Location: Arctic (northern hemisphere)
Biogeographic realm: Nearctic and Palearctic

Why is this species important?
Of all of the wildlife species in the Arctic, the polar bear is perhaps the most fitting icon for this ecoregion. Its amazing adaptations to life in the harsh Arctic environment and dependence on sea ice make them so impressive, and yet so vulnerable. Large carnivores are sensitive indicators of ecosystem health. Polar bears are studied to gain an understanding of what is happening throughout the Arctic as a polar bear at risk is often a sign of something wrong somewhere in the arctic marine ecosystem.

Multiple Polar Bears Discovered Swimming Many Miles From Alaska Coast
WWF Experts on the Ground Say Loss of Sea Ice Threatens Bears' Survival

© WWF/Geoff York
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, August 21, 2008 – An aerial survey by government scientists in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea this week found at least nine polar bears swimming in open water – with one at least 60 miles from shore – raising concern among wildlife experts about their survival. A World Wildlife Fund (WWF) polar bear expert said the bears could have difficulty making it safely to shore and risk drowning, particularly if a storm arises.

“To find so many polar bears at sea at one time is extremely worrisome because it could be an indication that as the sea ice on which they live and hunt continues to melt, many more bears may be out there facing similar risk,” said Geoff York, a polar bear biologist with WWF. “As climate change continues to dramatically disrupt the Arctic, polar bears and their cubs are being forced to swim longer distances to find food and habitat.”

Scientists say the Arctic is changing more rapidly and acutely than anywhere on the planet, noting that 2007 witnessed the lowest sea ice coverage in recorded history. Satellite images indicate that ice was absent in most of the region where the bears were found on August 16, 2008 and some experts predict this year’s sea ice loss could meet or exceed the record set last year

The discovery of the nine bears at sea came as the U.S. Minerals Management Service was conducting marine surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in advance of potential offshore oil development.

WWF polar bear experts on the ground in Alaska are assessing the situation and will provide updates to the media as more details unfold.

In May, the U.S. Department of Interior listed polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited the strong body of science pointing to the significant loss of Arctic sea ice habitat as the primary reason for protecting the bear with federal legislation. The State of Alaska has opposed the listing and has sued the federal government over its decision to list the bear.

Professor Richard Steiner of the University of Alaska’s Marine Advisory Program said, “While these bears are swimming around in an ice-free coastal Arctic Ocean, the only thing the State of Alaska is doing is suing the federal government trying to overturn the listing of polar bears. The bottom line here is that polar bears need sea ice, sea ice is decaying, and the bears are in very serious trouble. For any people who are still non-believers in global warming and the impacts it is having in the Arctic, this should answer their doubts once and for all.”

Help save endangered species by stopping the proposed changes that will weaken the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Government Affirms that Climate Change is Putting Polar Bears in Peril
WWF Applauds Threatened Species Designation

WWF Joins Suit Opposing Lease Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea
WASHINGTON D.C., May 14, 2008 – Climate change is destroying vital polar bear habitat, putting the species at risk of extinction, the U.S. government said today as it listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s largest conservation organization, said the government’s decision clearly indicates that climate change impacts are already threatening the survivability of animals and habitats, and illustrates the urgency of preparing for and adapting to a rapidly changing climate.

“Today’s decision is a tremendous victory for one of the world’s most iconic and charismatic animals,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF-US. “The other big winner today is sound science, which has clearly trumped politics, providing polar bears a new lease on life.”

Roberts added, “While we applaud today’s announcement, many concerns remain. The 360-page document comes with numerous caveats which we have yet to fully analyze. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was quite explicit in saying, for example, that continued energy production in Alaska remains a priority. WWF strongly disagrees with that position and recently became a plaintiff in the litigation challenging the Chukchi lease-sale—a priority area for WWF and home to one of our nation’s two polar bear populations.”

“WWF commends the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for heeding the unequivocal science that the survival of the polar bear is inextricably tied to its Arctic sea ice habitat, which is melting more rapidly than at any other time in recorded human history,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of WWF’s office in Alaska. “We must take the necessary measures now to help save the polar bear. The ESA listing is an important first step, but we must also address the underlying cause of climate change: rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sea ice, which polar bears depend on for hunting seals and other prey, melted to record low levels last summer. The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced earlier this month that current measurements and projections indicate that the 2008 melt season may also be “extreme,” possibly shattering the record set in 2007. Some scientists have predicted that the summer Arctic sea ice could be gone entirely as early as 2013.

“Based on the best available science, if current sea ice trends continue, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be lost by 2050,” said Geoffrey York, coordinator of WWF’s Polar Bear Conservation Program. “The threatened species designation will now provide additional legal protections for the bears, including the conservation of critical habitat and the development of a government-supported recovery plan.”

Citing the well-documented loss of sea ice due to climate change, the FWS recommended in September 2006 that the Interior Department list polar bears as threatened under the ESA. The Interior Department was legally required to issue a formal decision on the ESA listing by January 9, 2008, but failed to do so. On April 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the Department to issue a formal decision on the listing by May 15.

“Today’s announcement is long overdue,” said Williams. “The delay in listing has opened the door to accelerated oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. In February, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department, auctioned off almost 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea for oil and gas exploration.”

WWF is part of a coalition of Alaska native and conservation organizations that filed suit in federal district court in Alaska, arguing that MMS did not adequately weigh the impacts of oil and gas activities on indigenous communities and wildlife along Alaska’s North Slope.

“We should be taking every action possible to reduce stresses on polar bears, and we believe that oil and gas activities pose formidable risks to the Arctic sea ice ecosystem and the polar bears that inhabit it,” said York.

WWF has more than 20 years experience in polar bear and Arctic conservation and has a presence in all of the Arctic countries.

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