Celebrating 40 Years of Polar Bear Preservation
Celebrating 40 years of protection, 2013 was declared Year of the Polar Bear by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). Polar bears, which are native to the surrounding seas and land encompassing the Arctic Circle, were first protected under the 1973 Agreement on Conservation of Polar Bears. While the international agreement between the governments of Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. has “ensured the animal’s survival,” the polar bear is still considered a “vulnerable species,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN).
The concept behind the 1973 Agreement was to protect polar bears—the world’s largest land carnivores—and their habitat, especially denning and feeding areas as well as migration corridors, from hunting, killing or capturing. Since the 1973 Agreement signing, participating nations (also referred to as range states) helped fund a research project to “establish protected areas” for polar bears and determine the most endangered subpopulations within the species.
Out of the 19 subspecies, the IUCN determined that “eight are declining, three are stable, one is increasing and seven have insufficient data,” according to a 2009 study.
The biggest challenge, which is likewise causing an uncertain future for polar bears, is the rapidly warming Arctic. The Arctic ice that polar bears so greatly depend on will “shrink” in the coming years, increasing the species' vulnerability to climate change, according to the WWF. Therefore, to raise global awareness, the federation dedicated 2013 to celebrating the polar bear.
In an effort to further protect polar bears, which have roamed the planet for around 600,000 years, and bring attention to their preservation, the WWF said it is concentrated on addressing current climate change and reducing future Arctic industrialization.
“The range states have an opportunity in 2013 to repeat the successes of the past 40 years,” Geoff York, WWF’s international leader on polar bears, said on the federation’s website. By committing to habitat protection, addressing climate change, managing harvest, mitigating Arctic industrial development and funding polar bear research, these countries can ensure polar bear populations remain healthy for the next 40 years and beyond.”
The WWF said it will continue to fund ongoing research projects to help protect the future of polar bears.
Together with the range states and the worldwide scientific community, the WWF is committed to addressing the realities of a changed planet and determined to develop a plan to protect what it calls, “the Last Ice Area.”
“This is a key year for polar bears,” York said. “While polar bears and their Arctic home face a challenging future, we need to recognize and celebrate the conservation achievements to date.”
To learn more about Year of the Polar Bear, visit WWF’s website.