Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 2, 2015

Contact: Rebecca Noblin, (907) 274-1110,  

Polar Bear Plan Fails to Meaningfully Address Most Crucial Extinction Threat: Climate Crisis

'Recovery' Plan Allows Massive Decline in Polar Bear Populations

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The polar bear recovery plan released by the U.S. Department of the Interior today recognizes that climate change threatens to wipe out a majority of the species but proposes no meaningful measures to combat the threat. Interior released the plan just as Shell’s oil rigs make their way north to begin drilling the polar bear’s fragile Arctic habitat — with the Interior Department’s blessing.

Scientists have long predicted that most polar bears will likely be extinct by 2050 as global warming melts Arctic sea ice. While today’s recovery plan confirms that risk, it also fails to recommend sufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions to ensure the bear’s survival or a specific plan for achieving those reductions.

“When it comes to the carbon pollution melting the polar bears’ Arctic world, this plan just shrugs and hopes for the best,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science shows clearly that deep greenhouse gas reductions are needed to save polar bears from extinction, but the Obama administration doesn’t lay out a clear plan for what those targets should be and how to get there. Without specific targets we’ll see more and more polar bears drowning and starving to death.”

The plan’s release comes as Shell moves drillships to the Arctic with the expectation of a final approval from the Obama administration any day. The administration continues to tout Arctic drilling and other polluting oil and gas extraction projects across the nation, undermining the plan’s stated goal of polar bear recovery. Emissions from these fossil fuel extraction projects will contribute to climate change and melting Arctic sea ice.

Today’s recovery plan allows for massive reductions in the polar bear populations and accepts a disturbingly high likelihood that polar bears may go extinct. Under the plan polar bears can be considered recovered even if the population drops by 85 percent from current levels. The plan allows Alaskan polar bears to be considered “recovered” if they have only a 90 percent chance of persisting in 100 years. This means that, even if the plan is perfectly implemented, there is still a 10 percent chance there will be no polar bears in Alaska by century’s end. The plan further fails to address the fact that polar bears currently have no critical habitat protections.

“This recovery plan is just too risky for the polar bear,” said Noblin. “If an airplane had a 10 percent chance of crashing, would you get on?”

The United States protected polar bears as “threatened” in 2008 following the Center’s listing petition. Two polar bear populations live in Alaska, and a 2015 study found one population, in the Southern Beaufort Sea, had declined by 40 percent over 10 years. The status of the other population, in the Chukchi, remains “data deficient.” A 2014 U.S. Geological Survey analysis shows both populations are likely to be in the highest risk category of “greatly decreased” by mid-century under current greenhouse gas emission levels.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to develop and implement a recovery plan for all protected species. The plans must identify specific actions needed to save the species from extinction and recover it to the point that legal protections are no longer needed.

A 2012 study concluded that the Act has been successful in recovering listed plants and animals: 90 percent of sampled species have achieved recovery rates that coincide with the goals specified by their recovery plan.

“The Endangered Species Act works and recovery plans work but only if they truly address the threats to species,” Noblin said. “Sadly that simply isn’t the case with this polar bear plan.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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