About The Polar Bear

      The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a bear native within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas and land masses.   The great white polar bear is the youngest and largest of the world's bear species.  It is also the world's largest land carnivore.  An adult male can weighs up to 1,500 pounds, while an adult female is about half that size.  Although a mighty hunter and fierce defender of its young, the polar bear is among the world’s most vulnerable animals. Polar bears could be extinct by 2050 if greenhouse gas-fueled global warming keeps melting their Arctic sea-ice habitat.

     The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has led the charge to save polar bears from extinction. The CBD wrote the 2005 scientific petition calling for the bear’s protection under the Endangered Species Act, and filed suit twice with their partners to force the federal government to take action on that petition. In May 2008, the work paid off when the bear was finally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The next year, the CBD’s work spurred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose the protection for more than 128 million acres of polar bear habitat; the largest critical habitat proposal in Endangered Species Act history.

     The CBD is defending the polar bear in court from dangerous oil and gas exploration in its habitat off Alaska. In approving plans by Shell Oil to drill in the area, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar failed to assess the environmental impacts of a large oil spill. This would put polar bears and the entire Arctic ecosystem at risk.  The polar bear still does not have complete federal protection. When former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that the polar bear would be listed as threatened, he simultaneously vowed he would not let the listing affect U.S. climate policy, executing an illegal final “4(d)” rule (a special rule that changes the usual protections for endangered species).  Kempthorne’s rule exempted greenhouse gas emissions and oil development, the two leading threats to the bear by far, from regulation under the Endangered Species Act. The Center immediately challenged the rule, which was made final in December 2008. The suit remains active even as the Center defends the bear’s listing from those who would reverse it, including a trophy-hunting group and the state of Alaska.

     The polar bear got a new chance at more meaningful protections in March 2009, when Congress gave Interior Secretary Ken Salazar the power to revoke the 4(d) rule with the stroke of a pen. But the day before his deadline to do that, Salazar announced he would turn his back on the polar bear and leave the rule in place, ignoring hundreds of thousands of citizen petitions to save the bear (94,000 from CBD supporters), as well as requests from more than 1,300 scientists, more than 50 prominent legal experts, dozens of lawmakers, and more than 130 conservation organizations. Armed with this support and the CBD’s drive to save the bear, the CBD will continue its fight for the species’ survival.