Since 1979 the surface area of the Arctic ice cap has decreased by 20 percent. That’s a serious problem for American polar bears that rely on the Arctic ice sheet for food, mating grounds and habitat. If humans don’t do something to slow or stop the melting of that huge sheet of ice, it could be open water during the summer months before century’s end.
“America’s polar bears are jeopardized by global warming; it is the only significant threat to their survival,” says Deborah Williams, president of Alaska Conservation Solutions, a nonprofit global warming research group.
On Jan. 9 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. If polar bears are listed under the ESA the U.S. government will be forced to take action to prevent their extinction. That means not only recognizing the threat to their survival but also taking measures to stop it.
Williams will be in Missoula March 2 to talk about why polar bears matter to Montanans, and to help the Missoula-based Great Bear Foundation kick off a yearlong effort to make 2007 “The Year of the Polar Bear.”
“What’s happening in the arctic right now is incredible,” says Great Bear Foundation president and longtime bear researcher Charles Jonkel.
Williams believes ensuring the polar bear’s survival is a step toward ensuring human survival: “Saving the polar bear will require the kind of reduction in greenhouse gasses that are necessary to protect other animals, other ecosystems and, I believe, mankind.”
Congress may soon consider a number of bills targeting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and Williams says Montana’s senators could play an important role.
“The Senate is going to be so critical. We need to act in the next two years.”
The fastest way to get the ball rolling, Williams says, is to get ESA protection for the polar bear.
Information on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rule can be found at www.alaskaconservationsolutions.com. Williams will appear March 2 at 7 p.m. in the North Underground Lecture Hall on the University of Montana campus.