Polar bears use the summer sea ice in the Arctic for feeding, mating and giving birth, but over the past eight years, the amount of summer sea ice has been the lowest eight on record, the result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions, a government study says.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a report Thursday saying that polar bears risk extinction if humans don't reverse the trend of global warming.
"The single most important step for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a draft recovery plan, according to the Associated Press. "Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice, it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered."
The agency listed the species as threatened in 2008 and the draft recovery plan is part of the process after the listing.
Jennifer Kohout, the USFWS's regional program manager and co-chair of the polar bear recovery team, said in a conference call Thursday that halting Arctic warming will require a global commitment.
"In the meantime, the Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are committed to doing everything within our control to give the bears a chance to survive while we await global action,” Kohout said.
Authorities with the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific division of the Department of Interior, this week outlined two scenarios for polar bears through the end of the century: one in which greenhouse gas emissions stabilize, and the other in which they continue unabated.
The polar bear group that Alaska shares with Russia and Norway faces the first threat. This group makes up about a third of the world’s population. Under either scenario, it could begin seeing global warming’s ill effects as soon as 2025 because of the dramatic loss of sea ice in this part of the Arctic.
Other bears that make up population groups in Canada and Greenland would be affected about 25 years later.
The worldwide population of polar bears is an estimated 20,000 to 25,000. They live in five Arctic nations with Alaska being the only U.S. state with them.
The recovery plan identifies high-priority actions to be taken near- and mid-term to contribute to the survival of the polar bears, better management of harvests and deadly interactions with humans, including encroachment on their habitats, among them. The plan also aims to protect the dens of polar bears from humans and minimizing the risk to polar bears from oil spills.
The public can comment on the plan through Aug. 20.
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