Polar bear listed as threatened but protection uncertain

Defenders of Wildlife welcomes decision to list polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, points out Bush administration still unwilling to address global warming

(05/14/2008) -

WASHINGTON – Defenders of Wildlife today welcomed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This move officially recognizes that polar bears are threatened with extinction from global warming, which is melting the Arctic sea ice where polar bears hunt for ringed and bearded seals, their primary food source. Defenders cautioned, however, that the Bush administration continues to be unwilling to address global warming, which is the leading threat to the polar bear.

“With the USGS predicting the demise of Alaska’s bears within 50 years, this decision to list the polar bear is long overdue,” said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen. “Unfortunately, the Bush administration is unwilling to act to address the fundamental causes of global warming.”

In September, the U.S. Geological Survey published a series of reports predicting that loss of summer sea ice—crucial habitat for polar bears—could lead to the demise of two-thirds of the world’s polar bears by mid-century, including all of Alaska’s polar bears. As sea ice disappears, polar bears are forced to spend more time on land in search of food, placing stress on the bears and increasing the likelihood of often fatal conflicts (for the bears) with humans.

Listing polar bears as threatened under the ESA should help protect polar bear habitat from threats such as oil and gas development, which the Bush administration has proposed in pristine areas including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the primary land denning habitat for the polar bear. Instead, the administration has made it clear that the ESA will not provide any additional protections from these activities than those that already exist under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“Today’s announcement confirms yet again that global warming is already affecting the United States and its natural heritage,” said Schlickeisen.  “After years of denial, the Bush administration can no longer avoid facing up to the reality that global warming is happening, with long-term and devastating consequences for wildlife and people. However, the Bush administration remains committed to pushing through oil and gas lease sales in prime polar bear habitat. Defenders of Wildlife will do everything in its power to stop this senseless development.”

Learn more about Defenders' work to protect polar bears.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270
Jared Saylor, (202) 772-3255