New Study: It’s Not Too Late to Save Polar Bears From Extinction

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302 or ksiegel@biologicaldiversity.org

New Study: It’s Not Too Late to Save Polar Bears From Extinction

But Latest Research Shows Species Likely Doomed Without Steep Cuts in Greenhouse Emissions

WASHINGTON - A new paper published
today in the science journal Nature confirms that it is not too late to
save polar bears in Alaska from the impacts of global warming - but only if
action is taken very soon. According to the study, the polar bear faces an
overwhelming likelihood of extinction throughout much its range by mid-century
and a high risk of global extinction by century's end, if current greenhouse
emission trends continue. But if total atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are
stabilized by the end of this decade, extinction risk for the species drops
substantially, according to the study. Researchers also found that for the most
endangered polar bear populations, such as those in Alaska, the combination
of emissions stabilization and the reduction of other forms of human-caused
mortality reduces extinction risk even further.

"This paper confirms
that it's not too late to save the polar bear, but to have any realistic hope of
doing so we must rapidly curb our greenhouse gas emissions. It's also clear now
that if we reduce other threats to the species, such as hunting and the risk of
oil spills, we have a much better chance of saving polar bears in Alaska," said
Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law
Institute and author of the 2005 petition that led to Endangered Species Act
listing for the bear in 2008. "Today's study offers a road map for saving the
polar bear. All we need now is for the Obama government to start following it."
  

According to the study, polar bears
in Alaska face
more than an 80-percent chance of extinction by 2050 under current emissions
trends. However, with stabilization of atmospheric CO2 levels no
higher than 450 parts per million by 2020, combined with the reduction of other
forms of human-caused mortality and disturbance such as hunting and oil spills,
extinction risk drops to approximately 25 percent.

"While this study is encouraging, a
25-percent extinction probability for Alaska's polar bears is still far too high,"
said Siegel. "To truly ensure the persistence of polar bears we should not only
prevent atmospheric CO2 levels from ever exceeding 450 ppm - we must
also do everything possible to reduce those levels to no more than 350
ppm."

The lead author of the new study,
Dr. Steven Amstrup, who recently retired from the U.S. Geological Survey and is
now a senior Scientist with Polar Bears International, was also the primary
author of a series of USGS reports released in September 2007 that informed the
original Endangered Species Act listing decision in 2008. The new study comes as
the Department of the Interior faces a court-imposed Dec. 23 deadline to
determine whether polar bears should continue to be classified merely as
"threatened" or be given additional protection as "endangered" under the
Endangered Species Act. President Obama's Interior Department has to date defended the Bush-era
"threatened" designation, claiming that threats to the species are only of
future concern - notwithstanding the fact that polar bears are already drowning
and starving due to sea-ice loss, with many populations
declining.

"Polar bears are
facing a difficult future - and many populations are already experiencing global
warming's devastating effects - but this latest paper tells us we shouldn't give
up on them. There is still time to act and create a brighter future not just for
these incredible animals, but for the rest of the world as well. But the window
of opportunity is closing quickly," said Siegel.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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