Demand Protection for the Polar Bear

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The Arctic’s polar bears (Ursus maritimus) have become the iconic symbol of early victims of climate-induced habitat loss. Designated a threatened species for protection by the Endangered Species Act in the US, many polar bear populations will be vulnerable to extinction within the next century if warming trends in the Arctic continue at the current pace. WWF is supporting field research to better understand how climate change will affect polar bears and to develop adaptation strategies. WWF also works to protect critical polar bear habitat by working with governments and industry to reduce threats from shipping and oil and gas development in the region and with local communities to reduce human-bear conflict in areas where bears are already stranded on land for longer periods of time due to lack of ice.

Conservation status, threats and controversies
 
Map from the U.S. Geological Survey shows projected changes in polar bear habitat from 2001 to 2010 and 2041 to 2050. Red areas indicate loss of optimal polar bear habitat; blue areas indicate gain.
Polar bear population sizes and trends are difficult to estimate accurately because they occupy remote home ranges and exist at low population densities. Polar bear fieldwork can also be hazardous to researchers.[168] As of 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that the global population of polar bears is 22,000 to 31,000, and the current population trend is unknown.[1]Nevertheless, polar bears are listed as "Vulnerable" under criterion A3c, which indicates an expected population decrease of ≥30% over the next three generations (~34.5 years) due to "decline in area of occupancy, extent of occurrence and/or quality of habitat".[1] Risks to the polar bear include climate change, pollution in the form of toxic contaminants, conflicts with shipping, oil and gas exploration and development, and human-bear interactions including harvesting and possible stresses from recreational polar-bear watching.[1]

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the polar bear is important as an indicator of Arctic ecosystem health. Polar bears are studied to gain understanding of what is happening throughout the Arctic, because at-risk polar bears are often a sign of something wrong with the Arctic marine ecosystem.[169]

Controversy over species protection
 
Swimming
Warnings about the future of the polar bear are often contrasted with the fact that worldwide population estimates have increased over the past 50 years and are relatively stable today.[191][192] Some estimates of the global population are around 5,000 to 10,000 in the early 1970s;[193] other estimates were 20,000 to 40,000 during the 1980s.[43][57] Current estimates put the global population at between 20,000 and 25,000[37] or 22,000 and 31,000.[1]

There are several reasons for the apparent discordance between past and projected population trends: estimates from the 1950s and 1960s were based on stories from explorers and hunters rather than on scientific surveys.[194][195] Second, controls of harvesting were introduced that allowed this previously overhunted species to recover.[194] Third, the recent effects of climate change have affected sea ice abundance in different areas to varying degrees.[194]

Debate over the listing of the polar bear under endangered species legislation has put conservation groups and Canada's Inuit at opposing positions;[39] the Nunavut government and many northern residents have condemned the U.S. initiative to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.[196][197] Many Inuit believe the polar bear population is increasing, and restrictions on commercial sport-hunting are likely to lead to a loss of income to their communities.[39][19

Controversy over species protection
 
Swimming
Warnings about the future of the polar bear are often contrasted with the fact that worldwide population estimates have increased over the past 50 years and are relatively stable today.[191][192] Some estimates of the global population are around 5,000 to 10,000 in the early 1970s;[193] other estimates were 20,000 to 40,000 during the 1980s.[43][57] Current estimates put the global population at between 20,000 and 25,000[37] or 22,000 and 31,000.[1]

There are several reasons for the apparent discordance between past and projected population trends: estimates from the 1950s and 1960s were based on stories from explorers and hunters rather than on scientific surveys.[194][195] Second, controls of harvesting were introduced that allowed this previously overhunted species to recover.[194] Third, the recent effects of climate change have affected sea ice abundance in different areas to varying degrees.[194]

Debate over the listing of the polar bear under endangered species legislation has put conservation groups and Canada's Inuit at opposing positions;[39] the Nunavut government and many northern residents have condemned the U.S. initiative to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.[196][197] Many Inuit believe the polar bear population is increasing, and restrictions on commercial sport-hunting are likely to lead to a loss of income to their communities.[39][198]

 

 



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