U.S. to ban oil drilling in new Arctic reserves for polar bears
October 7, 2008
The U.S. Department of the Interior will designate two Arctic reserves in areas considered critical habitat for polar bears as part of a legal settlement with environmental groups, reports Reuters. The reserves will be off-limits of oil development and must be established by June 30, 2010.
“If polar bears are to survive in a rapidly melting Arctic, we must protect their critical habitat, as well as protect individual bears stranded on land. This agreement sets us on the path to doing both,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of three environmental groups that sued the Department of the Interior for failing to take action to protect the polar bear.
Center for Biological Diversity, along with Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, now aims to use the threatened status of the polar bear to push for limits on greenhouse gas emissions, since climate change is a key threat to the species. The Arizona-based organization is also looking to elevate the bear’s status from threatened to endangered based on recent studies from the U.S. Geological Survey showing that the species is more imperilled than previously thought.
Declining sea ice is seen as a major threat to polar bears. Unlike grizzly bears, polar bears aren’t adapted to hunting land animals like caribou, so loss of sea ice is making it more difficult for bears to find food. Several studies have documented declines in bear weight and cub survival in recent years.