Alarming Polar Bear Decline a Call to Action on Climate Change

"The science is clear: Polar bears are paying a steep price for our climate inaction."

12-02-2013 // Miles Grant

Heat-stressed Polar Bear NWF

Canadian scientists say the steep decline of Western Hudson Bay polar bears continues this year with the population now down 30 percent in the last 25 years, according to a report in The Guardian. Scientists say not only are female polar bears now an average of 88 pounds thinner, those mothers are having fewer and thinner cubs. 

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, just returned from a trip to Hudson Bay and witnessed firsthand the stress that warmer temperatures are putting on polar bears. His polar bear photos are available for use with attribution to National Wildlife Federation.

"The science is clear: Polar bears are paying a steep price for our climate inaction," said Schweiger.

As sea ice hunting grounds recede in the summer, the polar bears of the Western Hudson Bay fast for months at a time. But warming temperatures are extending that ice-free summer fast nearly three weeks, from an average of about 120 days in the 1970s to 140 days in recent years.

"All the key indicators that scientists have been watching for Hudson Bay polar bears are now running in the red: Fewer days with the ice necessary to hunt food,  more bears dying, thinner surviving bears bearing fewer young, and the population disappearing," said Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation. "Global warming is putting these same stressors on America’s polar bears, which could be gone within 40 years."

Citing climate change shrinking sea ice, in 2008 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed America’s polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

"Our members of Congress are just returning from Thanksgiving, having spent time with their children and grandchildren. Are they ready to leave them the legacy of a world without polar bears because we refused to cut carbon pollution?" said Schweiger. "President Obama is taking important steps forward with his plan to act on climate change, but saying no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and an international agreement to curb carbon pollution are key pieces of his climate legacy. It’s also time for the administration to put an end to Shell’s clumsy attempts to drill in Arctic waters, not only to protect polar bear habitat from oil spills but to cut the climate-disrupting carbon pollution that threatens all people and wildlife."


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