Often referred to as the largest land carnivores in the world, polar bears are actually marine mammals, spending much of their time on Arctic sea ice hundreds of miles from land. But climate change  is melting their icy habitat, making it increasingly difficult to travel, hunt and raise their young. Without help, polar bears could disappear from U.S. shores by 2050.
Why They’re Important
Polar bears sit at the top of the food chain in the biologically rich Arctic. The most carnivorous of the bear species, polar bears feed primarily on the fat of ice-dependent seals, namely ringed, bearded and ribbon seals. The remains of these seals provide food for many other Arctic wildlife species.
The most serious threat to polar bears today is climate change. As temperatures in the Arctic continue to get warmer, the sea ice that polar bears rely on for survival melts earlier each spring and forms later each fall. In 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear in Alaska as threatened, the first listing under the Endangered Species Act chalked up primarily to climate change.
Oil and gas development also poses a major risk to polar bears, particularly the threat of oil spills. There is still no proven method of cleaning up oil in broken sea-ice conditions, and an oil spill would not only directly harm polar bears, but would also deplete their prey and contaminate their habitat.
What Defenders Is Doing to Help Polar Bears
Defenders of Wildlife is fighting to ensure the impact of climate change on polar bears is considered in related legislation and policies. We’re also advocating permanent protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest onshore denning site for polar bears, and opposing attempts to allow drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. On the ground, we’re working to help Alaskans coexist peacefully with wildlife, developing tools such as polar bear-resistant food lockers and diversionary feeding that keep animals and communities safe.