The top threat to the survival of polar bears is the increase in carbon dioxide emissions, the federal government’s wildlife agency said.
That’s the main finding released Thursday in a draft proposal of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) first ever plan for conserving the polar bear, which was declared endangered in 2008.
“Polar bear conservation requires a global commitment to curb the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” Geoffrey Haskett, the Alaska regional director for the FWS, said in a statement about the draft plan.
“Until that happens, we’re going to do everything within our power to give the polar bear a chance to survive. That’s what this plan’s about.”
The agency identified several threats to the polar bear, but said that the loss of sea ice — caused by climate change — is the top threat. It predicts that three out of the four major “ecoregions” of polar bears will be decreased or greatly decreased by 2050, based on two separate greenhouse gas growth scenarios.
“Outcomes for polar bear populations are projected to worsen over time through the end of the century under both scenarios, but the long-term persistence of polar bears may be possible if global greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized at or below the modeled level,” the FWS said.
But the plan goes further, and suggests strategies to help the bears by managing subsistence harvests, minimizing risks from oil and chemical spills, protecting denning habitat from human activity and other actions.
The FWS is taking comments from the public on the draft plan through Aug. 20.