Urgent action needed to protect polar bears, WWF expert testifies | WWF

Urgent action needed to protect polar bears, WWF expert testifies

Posted on
30 January 2008

The overwhelming body of peer-reviewed science regarding the relationship of declining arctic sea ice to declines in polar bear populations meets the statutory criteria requiring a listing as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, WWF’s Margaret Williams told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in a hearing held today in Washington, DC that examined threats and protections for the polar bear.

Listing the polar bear under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) would require the U.S. federal government to take actions not available under other regulatory mechanisms for the protection of listed species.  For example, if the polar bear is listed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be required to identify and protect critical habitat for the polar bear, said Williams, who is the Director of the Bering Sea Ecoregion and based at the WWF field office in Alaska. 

Decision delayed

On January 7, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior) announced that it would delay by up to one month a final decision on whether to list polar bears as “threatened” under the ESA. 

“We see no reason to postpone this decision.  A compelling body of cutting-edge science and our projects on the ground tells us that polar bears already face a tentative future,” said Dr Sybille Klenzendorf, Director of WWF’s Species Programme.

Climate change reducing the polar bear’s sea-ice habitat

The sad and undeniable truth is that we are rapidly losing the polar bear’s most important key to survival – its sea-ice habitat.  While listing the polar bear would be a very important step, WWF calls on the U.S. and other governments to also take dramatic steps to decrease CO2 emissions, the source of global warming that is melting polar bear habitat and transforming the Arctic.

Threat of arctic oil and gas development to polar bears

WWF is concerned about the proposed oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea, given the importance of the region to polar bears and the growing climate change-induced threats to this species.  Global experience demonstrates that the technology to effectively contain and clean up oil spills in arctic waters does not exist at this time.  The risks to arctic marine life posed by offshore oil and gas development are too great.

“The inability to effectively clean up an arctic marine oil spill and the potentially grave consequences for polar bears is a strong argument for a moratorium on oil and gas development in the Arctic until response capacity improves,” said Dr Neil Hamilton, Director of the WWF International Arctic Programme. 

Immediate action needed to protect polar bears

The U.S. has an obligation to heed the science and to uphold its international commitments to protect polar bears and their arctic habitat.

WWF calls for urgent action to protect polar bears by closely scrutinizing and preventing all actions that may add further stress the species, including conducting oil and gas leasing in prime polar bear habitat.

The full text of Margaret Williams’ testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works can be found on www.panda.org/arctic. 

Click here to watch the webcast of the hearing.   Click here for more information on this story from the WWF-US Newsroom.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Neil T. M. Hamilton
Director, WWF International Arctic Programme
(+47) 9300 5660

Margaret Williams
Director, WWF Bering Sea Ecoregion
(+1) (907)  830-4349

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