SAVING THE POLAR BEAR
The great white polar bear is the youngest and largest of the world's bear species — a mighty hunter and fierce defender of its young that's among the world's most vulnerable animals. Two-thirds of the world's polar bears could be extinct by 2050 if greenhouse gas-fueled global warming keeps melting their Arctic sea-ice habitat.The Center has led the charge to save polar bears from extinction. We wrote the 2005 scientific petition calling for their protection under the Endangered Species Act, and we filed suit twice with our partners to force the administration to take action on that petition. Finally, in 2008, our work paid off when the bears were protected as threatened under the Act. In 2010, our work spurred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect 120 million acres of the species' habitat, the largest critical habitat designation in Endangered Species Act history. Big Oil and the state of Alaska brought a suit challenging the polar bear's critical habitat decision — forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to rethink its landmark designation — but in February 2016 the bear won back its habitat protections in a momentous victory. The U.S. Supreme Court, in May 2017, refused to hear a challenge to the critical habitat designation, preserving the polar bear's 120 million protected acres.
Unfortunately, oil and gas drilling in the Alaskan Arctic — including the Willow project, which we're fighting — still threatens polar bears and the entire Arctic ecosystem. And polar bears still don't have complete federal protection. When former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that the polar bear would be listed as threatened, he simultaneously vowed he wouldn't let the listing affect U.S. climate policy, executing an illegal final “4(d)” rule exempting greenhouse gas emissions — by far the leading threat to the bear — from regulation under the Endangered Species Act. We immediately challenged the rule and are still fighting to change polar bears' status from “threatened” to the more protective “endangered” — in which case the rule will have to be tossed.
So far, the Center's work has helped polar bears keep their protected status even after legal appeals to the bear's listing on several fronts, and we're still working to save these majestic animals from the deadly jaws of oil exploration and catastrophic climate change.