Polar bears are a species representative of global warming. The environment which they have adapted to over thousands of years is now disappearing within decades. As the sea ice disappears in the Arctic, so does the ability for polar bears to hunt, raise young and live in general.
Due to these reasons, the polar bear is threatened by extinction due to the gradual destruction of their environment. In hopes of reducing polar bear losses, the Obama administration recently announced protection for habitat which is considered critical to the polar bear in Alaska.
A total of 187,000 square miles of land, the size of two United Kingdoms, has been set aside for polar bears along the Alaskan coast. The majority of the area secured for polar bears is sea ice, ninety-five percent to be exact. The area is in both the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The assistant Interior Secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, Tom Strickland, stated: “This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations. We will continue to work toward comprehensive strategies for the long-term survival of this iconic species.”
Designating this area as critical habitat ensures that any activity within the range will require federal go-ahead. Development will be allowed with approval, including potential offshore oil and gas. However, any activity will likely come with restrictions. Any approval will be made based on whether a plan will impact the polar bear habitat or the polar bears themselves.
Some areas are exempt from the ruling, including five United States Air Force radar locations. In addition, Native Alaskans in Barrow and Kaktovik will be exempt as well.
Environmental groups are hoping the Obama administration will halt any potential oil and gas development in the polar bears’ critical habitat. Groups point to the potential for a spill in the region, a spill which would have dire consequences for polar bears and other species in the area.