Can Popularity Save the Polar Bear?

More than 500,000 Americans contacted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, most calling for endangered species status for the polar bear.© U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been overwhelmed by the response of the American public to the federal proposal to list the polar bear as an endangered species. Global warming has melted sea ice in the world’s arctic regions, and polar bears are quickly losing their habitat. Last Monday marked the end of a 90-day public comment period on the issue, and more than 500,000 Americans chimed in—almost double the number of responses on any previous species listing proposal. The vast majority of comments were in favor of affording protection to America’s beleaguered northern white bear.

With arctic sea ice melting at an unprecedented rate due to human-induced global warming, scientists agree that the world’s remaining 20,000 or so polar bears have little chance for survival unless drastic measures are taken to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.

"The sense of urgency about the fate of the polar bears is like nothing we’ve ever seen in an endangered species listing," says Andrew Wetzler of the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. "The plight of these animals is critical, and so is the sense that the changes affecting them are eventually going to affect us," he says. "That’s why there is such tremendous public support for getting this listing done."

Not even the Bush Administration can deny that global warming is having an effect on polar bear habitat. In a surprise to many, last December FWS, under pressure from a lawsuit filed by three leading environmental groups (National Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace), proposed listing the species. In the interim, these groups and others have been trying to garner public support for the listing.

Source: Center For Biological Diversity/Polar Bears