Polar Bears Win After Alaska Tries to Delist Them

Despite protests from Alaska, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that polar bears will keep their “threatened” status and continue to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Polar bears were listed under the ESA in 2008 as a result of a petition and legal action taken by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace. They were the first species added to the list solely because of the threat of climate change.

There are still an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the wild around the world, with two-thirds of the population in Canada, but they face a number of threats ranging from the loss of sea ice which they rely on for survival, to disease, pollution, shipping and hunting, among other issues.

“This ruling forces Alaska to acknowledge what has been painfully clear to everyone else: polar bears are on a collision course with climate change and deserve protection,” said Rebecca Riley, attorney in NRDC’s land and wildlife program. “Now, we need to get serious about tackling climate change and other threats to the species like hunting and toxic contamination.”

Their status has been controversial in Alaska, where they’re seen as impeding development, particularly when it comes to drilling for oil. The state, along with the international hunting group Safari Club International, argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should have taken into account the fact that polar bears are doing well elsewhere in the world where steps are being taken to increase their numbers, according to the LA Times.

However, the court found that the USFWS’s decision to list them was scientifically supported, noting the record low in sea ice in 2007, which “further support[s] the concern that current sea ice models may be conservative and underestimate the rate and level of change expected in the future.”

Scientists believe that without protection, more than two-thirds of the planet’s polar bears, including all of the ones in Alaska, will likely be gone by 2050, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Today’s decision is the latest legal confirmation of the indisputable science on climate change and the very real threats that polar bears face,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “If we’re going to save polar bears, the Obama administration needs to move swiftly to cut greenhouse pollution.”

Polar bears may also get even more support as countries gather at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the coming weeks, where the U.S., with support from the Russian Federation, is proposing a ban on the international trade in polar bear parts by uplisting them from Appendix II to Appendix I, which is currently the highest level of protection a species can get.

The legal trade in parts including paws, teeth and pelts results in the death of hundreds of polar bears annually. Canada, the only country that allows polar bear hunting and commercial trade, argues that populations are healthy and necessary for subsistence hunting, but troubling numbers gathered by the USFWS indicate that while some populations are stable or increasing, more than a dozen are either declining or haven’t been checked in decades.

The U.S. sponsored a proposal at the last meeting of CITES in 2010, but didn’t get enough votes to move forward.


Related Stories:

Time to Stop Canada’s Polar Bear Hunt

U.S. Steps Up to Help Polar Bears

Support a Ban on the Commercial Trade of Polar Bear Parts


Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marcia Geiger
Marcia Geiger3 years ago

I am so happy the agency has seen the light.
How about all the members of the safari club get some winter gear..be put on the little ice floes that the polar bears are forced to use now...then throw a fish sandwich into the water to see if they (much lighter weight and intelligence) than the bears..can catch it to eat. A couple of months of that may help them see the light.

Phyl M.
Dai M3 years ago

Polar bears & environment must be priority one.

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy3 years ago

Great result.

stewart s.
stew s3 years ago

Alaska should be a national protected area and should not be controlled by a state government or ANY Rethuglicans!!

Dawnie D.
Past Member 3 years ago

Mans greed and short sightedness never ceases to amaze me. Polar Bears have been in this habitat since God knows when, they have a right to exist and if they don't, it will be to our own detriment. Why doesn't the government in charge have more foresight? They will not be judged well by history and rightly so. Thank you for the opportunity to voice a few words on behalf of these majestic white beauties...Polar Bears. Peace and love to all.

Alfonso Lopez
Alfonso Lopez4 years ago

that's great

Jac West
Jac West4 years ago

Wonderful news

Konstantin Trubin


Danial W.
Past Member 4 years ago


Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy4 years ago

Lovely animals,