According to Dr. John Schoen, Senior Scientist for Audubon Alaska, "The USFWS draft designation of critical habitat is comprehensive, science-based, and represents a significant step toward increasing conservation measures for polar bears in Arctic Alaska."
The critical habitat designation includes sea ice over the continental shelf, barrier islands, and coastal denning habitat. These areas represent essential habitat for the two populations of polar bears that occur in Alaska.
The primary threat to polar bears throughout the Arctic is loss of sea ice habitat as a result of climate change. Any federal actions proposed in critical habitat areas would require consultation with the USFWS to ensure that activities do not destroy or adversely modify the bear's habitat.
The offshore area proposed as critical habitat includes areas in both the Chukchi and southern Beaufort seas. Earlier this week the Minerals Management Service approved Shell Oil's application to drill exploratory oil and gas wells in the Beaufort Sea.
"The polar bear is representative of an entire ecosystem under distress. Now is not the time to add additional problems – such as oil spills from offshore development – that pose conservation risks to the polar bear" said Eric Myers, Senior Policy Representative for Audubon Alaska.
As the Arctic faces rapid climate change and expanding industrialization, Audubon applauds the USFWS for their precautionary management of this threatened species.
To interview Audubon Alaska leaders, contact
Taldi Walter firstname.lastname@example.org
Communications & Policy Associate
tel (907) 276-7034
fax (907) 276-5069
More info at www.audubonalaska.org