USFWS Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan was developed as a guide to polar bear conservation in the U.S., and calls for decisive action to address Arctic warming and protect polar bears from the impacts of climate change. This plan outlines conservation and adaptation strategies for the USFWS and agency partners to support the recovery of polar bears, while articulating the need to lower greenhouse gas levels to ultimately protect the survival of the species.

According to the plan, the primary threat to the polar bear is the loss of sea ice habitat brought about by climate change. The polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to the loss of its sea ice habitat - and the USFWS is responding to statutory obligations of the ESA. As sea ice is essential for polar bear survival, the management plan makes clear that the species existence is contingent on curbing climate change, as well as helping the polar bear adapt to current conditions. It also calls for reducing human-bear conflicts, collaboratively managing subsistence harvest, protecting denning habitat, and minimizing the risk of contamination from oil spills.

Polar bears evolved over thousands of years to life in a sea ice environment, and therefore depend on the sea ice-dominated ecosystem to support essential life functions. The sea ice provides a platform from which polar bears hunt their prey. Ice also is used for seeking mates and breeding, passage to terrestrial maternity denning sites, and for long-distance movements.

The Plan addresses this concern by establishing minimum criteria for polar bear survival and reproductive rates to be achieved along with stable sea-ice criteria. The survival and reproductive criteria could not be achieved without adequate polar bear prey - or ice.

Additionally, polar bears are legally hunted in the U.S. for subsistence purposes, and the management of such take is also important for their conservation. Because of the unique circumstances of polar bears, this plan has a two standard approach to conservation and management requiring criteria for both the:

- Health and stability of the marine ecosystem, and

- Maximum net productivity level (The second criterion addresses the extent to which it is acceptable for lethal removals to reduce the size of a polar bear subpopulation relative to its potential size in the absence of such removals.)

The Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan was developed by a team of researchers from USFWS and the U.S. Geological Survey, Native American communities, the oil and gas industry, and conservation groups.  The Polar Bear Recovery Team included 35 representatives from federal agencies, the State of Alaska, the North Slope Borough, Alaska Native organizations, industry, non-profit organizations and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

 

The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice in October and November 2016 was the lowest on record for those months since record keeping began in 1979. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rates, polar bears are projected to disappear from much of their present-day range, or all together. 

 

Publication Date: January 9, 2017

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  • Plans (other)

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Impacts:

  • Air temperature
  • Permafrost melt
  • Water temperatures

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