Move Over Grizzlies, There's a New Kid on the Block

Feature story - February 8, 2006

Thanks to global warming, polar bears are on thin ice. As temperatures rise, the sea ice polar bears depend on to survive is disappearing. Experts predict that polar bears may disappear, along with the ice, by the end of the century if nothing is done to stop it. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the polar bear as a threatened species. This is a huge victory for polar bears, even if it did take a Greenpeace lawsuit to accomplish it.

The Endangered Species Act would provide broad protection to polar bears, including a requirement that all federal agencies make sure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the government will not "jeopardize the continued existence" of polar bears, or adversely modify their critical habitat.

Polar bears spend the warmer months hunting for seals on sea ice, preparing for 8 months of hibernation. But with sea ice melting, the polar bear's chances of survival are slipping away. And the polar bear is not alone. A lack of sea ice in Canada this winter forced thousands of grey seals to give birth on a small island, where last week more than 1,500 seal pups were swept out to sea in a storm and drowned.

In some polar regions, the sea ice season has shortened as much as three weeks, and scientists have discovered that the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate - more than a million square miles - losing an area the size of Colorado in just the last year. It is widely believed that Arctic winter temperatures could rise as much as eighteen degrees, melting the bears' feeding grounds completely by the end of the century.

Polar bears are already suffering from the effects. Fewer cubs are surviving, and the total bear population declined almost 14 percent from 1995 to 2004.

Greenpeace joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity, in a lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service to  declare polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Today's announcement comes just over a month before a federal hearing is scheduled in the case.