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Soundings Archive

FWS Proposes Critical Habitat for Polar Bears
On May 15, 2008, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service published in the Federal Register a final rule listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the U. S. Endangered Species Act. The FWS based its listing on the loss of sea ice that the bears live on. The FWS concluded that climate change is causing the sea ice to melt.

On October 29, 2009, FWS published proposed critical habitat designations under the ESA for polar bear populations in the United States. The FWS proposes to designate 519,403 square kilometers (200,541 square miles) of critical habitat in Alaska and adjacent territorial and U.S. waters.

The FWS will consider written comments it receives on this proposed designation if FWS receives those comments on or before December 28, 2009. The FWS will consider written requests for public hearings if it receives those requests on or before December 14, 2009. With regard to comments, the FWS emphasizes in its Federal Register notice that

    "Due to the court-ordered deadline of June 30, 2010, to complete the final determination on this proposed designation of critical habitat for the polar bear, we request that you submit comments and information to us as soon as possible in order to allow us adequate time to take them into consideration for the final determination."
The FWS explained in its notice that
    "Delineation of critical habitat requires, within the geographical area occupied by the polar bear, identification of the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the species that may require special management or protection. In general terms, physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the polar bear include: (1) Annual and perennial marine sea-ice habitats that serve as a platform for hunting, feeding, traveling, resting, and (to a limited extent) denning; and (2) terrestrial habitats used by polar bears for denning and reproduction, as well as for seasonal use in traveling or resting. The most important polar bear life functions that occur in these habitats are feeding and reproduction. Adult female polar bears are the most important reproductive cohort in the population."
Most of the areas proposed to be protected are owned by the U.S. Federal Government, or by the State of Alaska.
  • Click here to read FWS' Federal Register notice of proposed polar bear critical habitat rules, including detailed descriptions of areas proposed to be protected

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