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Raising temperatures jeopardize future of polar bears. Habitat loss and food scarcity, biggest concerns

Raising temperatures continue to threaten the survival of polar bears. Due to climate change, habitat loss is a constant concern and animals face food scarcity driving them closer to extinction.

An icon of the Arctic, polar bears have been among the first species to show how climate change can drive animals on the brink of extinction. With dwindling numbers, polar bears have been massively suffering due to habitat loss and according to a new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this emblem of the Arctic continues to be under threat because of increasing temperatures. The future of the polar bear is being jeopardized by the rapid loss of its sea-ice habitat and urgent steps are needed in order to tackle climate change, the main factor contributing to melting sea-ice.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its Conservation Management Plan(CMP) that outlines actions that will help this symbol of the Arctic persist in the wild in the near-term, while also acknowledging the primary threat to the bear will entail longer-term actions.

“This plan outlines the necessary actions and concrete commitments by the Service and our state, tribal, federal and international partners to protect polar bears in the near term,” said Greg Siekaniec, The Service’s Alaska Regional Director in a press statement. “But make no mistake; without decisive action to address Arctic warming, the long-term fate of this species is uncertain.”

The plan was made out with the help of wildlife experts and focuses on some important actions like reducing human-bear conflicts, collaboratively managing subsistence harvest, protecting denning habitat, and minimizing the risk of contamination from oil spills.

Most of these actions are already underway, in partnership with Alaska Native communities, nonprofit groups, and industry representatives who participated in the plan’s creation. The implementation of the plan will be monitored in order to see what further steps are need and what actions should be modified.

Polar bears face declining numbers

The plan focuses on management actions for the two U.S. sub populations of polar bears that live off the coast of Alaska. In the U.S., according to the WWF, polar bears are listed as threatened species while in Greenland, Norway and Denmark they are considered vulnerable. In Canada, where the majority of the polar bear population can be found, 60%-80%, they are listed as of special concern. In Russia, depending on the subpopulation, polar bears are rare or recovering and in some area, due to lack of data, subpopulations are listed as indeterminate.

The need for urgent action has been amplified by the fact that in October and November 2016 , sea-ice was the lowest on record for those months since record keeping began in 1979. The current global polar bear population is estimated to be 26,000. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rates throughout the 21st century, polar bears will likely disappear from much of their present-day range.

According to scientific prediction, if climate change continues at this rate,by 2040, only a fringe of ice will remain in Northeast Canada and Northern Greenland when all other large areas of summer ice are gone.

This “Last Ice Area” is likely to become important for polar bears and other life that depends on ice. By 2050, polar bear numbers are expected to decline by 30%.

Sylvia Jacob