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New Plan Shines Light on Steps to Polar Bear Recovery


Contact: Leigh Anne Tiffany; (202) 772-0259; ltiffany@defenders.org


New Plan Shines Light on Steps to Polar Bear Recovery


Anchorage, AK (Jan. 9, 2017) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) addresses the fundamental challenges polar bears face in the “Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan” released today.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“We need to ensure that our children and grandchildren experience polar bears other than on the side of a soda can.

“This recovery plan is a creditable effort to map a path for the continued existence of the polar bear in the wild, but the overwhelming fact the plan conveys is that the polar bear’s future lies in the hands of the world and our success in halting climate change.  Even the best wildlife biologists, armed with the best science and the most modern wildlife management techniques, cannot save the bear if we allow climate change to go unchecked.”

Karla Dutton, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

"Defenders has been part of the team helping to draft this plan over the last three years. The Plan provides clear steps for how to protect polar bears in the interim while climate change impacts should be addressed. This includes Defenders’ signature coexistence efforts from minimizing human-bear conflicts to reducing the threats to polar bears from oil spills to studying denning sites for mother polar bears. We at Defenders will actively work to ensure this plan is implemented effectively and consistently updated to provide the best solutions for polar bears.”


Climate change is the number one cause of dwindling polar bear populations according to the “Polar Bear Conservation Management Recovery Plan.” Polar bears use sea ice to hunt, travel and rear their young. When the ocean freezes over in the winter, polar bears can then venture away from land each spring to search for their primary prey: ringed and bearded seals. During the late summer when the sea ice melts away, polar bears are unable to hunt until the sea ice returns. They go on a long fast, using the stored up fat from their winter feast as fuel until next winter.

But climate change has shifted this cycle, increasing the number of days and months in spring, summer and fall that polar bears go without their primary prey. They travel along the coast and wander into local villages to scour for food, leading to conflicts between the humans and bears.

Defenders is on the ground, striving for sustainable coexistence between humans and polar bears:

·         We worked with local communities to design polar bear-proof food storage containers for coastal communities – keeping people’s food secure from land locked bears scrounging for a substitute for their preferred seal meal.

·         We worked with Alaska Native youth to create polar bear safety videos for their communities.

·         We continue to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a crucial polar bear denning site. Additionally, we are supporting a cutting edge study on polar bear maternal dens.

·         We partner with local and federal agencies to develop spill response plans for a rapid reaction to potential spills due to increased shipping through the Bering Strait.

The “Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan” echoes the work Defenders is already accomplishing, as well as gives additional insight into how we can aid in polar bear recovery. Working with local communities on how to safely interact with polar bears, monitoring important denning sites for polar bear mothers, minimizing the risk of contamination from oil spills, and working with neighboring countries on recovery steps are all proposed in this plan. We also note that this is a dynamic, living document that will require changes as new research and information are unveiled. We were at the table as this plan was formed, and we will continue to keep this document relevant to the critical needs of polar bears.




Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.