Polar Bears Jeopardized by Drastic Habitat Loss; DOI Says ANWR Drilling Won’t Hurt Them

Animals of the Ice: Polar Bears | Ocean Today

Photo: NOAA

All but a few populations of polar bears found in the high Arctic could be extinct by 2100 due to the drastic loss of sea ice across their range, according to a study in the Journal Nature Climate Change published Monday.  There are 19 distinct subpopulations of polar bears across the Arctic from Alaska to Siberia and all but one face being wiped out due to the loss of sea ice. Without ice, polar bears must survive on land, long distances from their food supplies, causing them to go hungry.  Ironically, the Interior Department in its study of the environmental impacts of drilling in the U.S. Arctic found that it would not harm polar bears, which are already forced to build their winter dens and birth their cubs on land instead of ice.

Why This Matters:  This study puts data behind the starving polar bear photo.  The U.S. population is one of the most threatened in the world because of the loss of ice. Big banks are unwilling to fund Arctic drilling and Democratic lawmakers are rightly pushing back on the Trump Administration’s hasty conclusions because, as usual, it appears the “fix was in” for oil and gas.  This is precisely the reason why there is a global push to preserve 30% of the planet by 2030.

Global Polar Bear Risks

The New York Times reported that the lead author of the study, Peter K. Molnar, a researcher at the University of Toronto Scarborough, painted a grim picture, saying:  “There is very little chance that polar bears would persist anywhere in the world, except perhaps in the very high Arctic in one small subpopulation” if globally we remain on the current trajectory for greenhouse-gas emissions. The best estimate is that there are only about 25,000 remaining polar bears in the Arctic. Their main habitat is sea ice, but because of the rapidly increasing warming in the region, the amount of summer ice has declined by roughly 13 percent per decade compared to the 1981-2010 average.  The researchers looked at climate models and ice-free days projections and assumed that the warming would continue in the business as usual path. They found that for most polar bear subgroups, because of the loss of sea ice the bears would not be able to find enough food and thus starve.

The Interior Department ANWR Study

The Interior Department’s biologists looked at the impact of the proposed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and apparently concluded that oil and gas development there — the most critical denning habitat for the highly endangered U.S. population — will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of the species.  The Hill reports that Congressman Jared Huffman argued in a letter to the agency that this conclusion is “unsupportable” and called it a “fundamentally flawed analysis” that  “ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that identifies devastating impacts to polar bears from oil and gas activities.”  Last February, the Department did something very unusual — opened its internal determination on polar bears to public comment.  Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists said about that decison: “What it looks like to me is they’re giving industry the opportunity to negate the study.  ”

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