USFWS
Marine Mammals Management
Alaska Region

 

Image of a mother polar bear and two cubs.  Photo Credit:  Susi Miller/ USFWS

Endangered Species Act

 

Final Polar Bear Special Rule and Environmental Assessment

Proposed Polar Bear Special Rule and Draft Environmental Assessment

Listing

Final Rule Listing the Polar Bear as a Threatened Species Under the Endangered Species Act (May 15, 2008)

On May 15, 2008, the Service published a Final Rule in the Federal Register listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat. Any significant changes in the abundance, distribution, or existence of sea ice will have effects on the number and behavior of these animals and their prey. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species. A species can be listed under the ESA under one of two categories, endangered or threatened. An endangered species is likely to go extinct within all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future. The polar bear was petitioned to be listed as a threatened species, defined as a species likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The Service also published on May 15, 2008, an Interim Final Rule for the polar bear under Section 4(d) of the ESA.

Secretary Kempthorne Announces Decision to Protect Polar Bears under Endangered Species Act Press Release
Frequently Asked Questions About the Listing of the Polar Bear as a Threatened Species (pdf)
Final Rule May 15, 2008
Literature Citation (pdf) for the Final Rule.


Reissuance of Interim Special Rule for the Polar Bear. 1/30/12

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a notice that codifies the November 18, 2011, court-ordered reinstatement of an interim final special rule governing management of polar bears under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In its ruling, the court stated that the Service was required to review potential environmental impacts of its December 16, 2008, final special rule for the polar bear under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and that the May 15, 2008 (73 FR 28306), interim final special rule will be in effect until this is done.

Interim Special Rule
Bulletin
Talking Points

Official announcement of the Polar Bear 4(d) from the Department of the Interior. 12/12/08

News Release
Special Rule
Questions and Answers


Previous Actions

  • April 28, 2008 - The United States District Court for the Northern District of California orders the Department of Interior and US Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final decision on whether or not add the polar bear to the list of threatened and endangered species by May 15, 2008.

  • January 7, 2008 - To allow additional time for Service biologists to adequately evaluate and incorporate the USGS scientific information and public comments received, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall announces a delay in the final decision.

  • September 7, 2007 - USGS announces the findings of the their comprehensive polar bear research, which includes information on the population of polar bears in the Northern and Southern Beaufort Sea and the Southern Hudson Bay; the loss of sea ice in the Arctic region; the reduction in available habitat for polar bears; polar bear population trends in response to the decrease in available habitat; and the likelihood of polar bear extirpation due to the loss of sea ice. The Service opens a comment period to allow the public time to review the USGS reports and respond to the new information, which closed on October 22, 2007.

    The USGS reports can be found here: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/special/polar_bears/

    While some commenters provided extensive technical comments on the reports, a thorough evaluation of comments received found no significant scientific disagreement regarding the adequacy or accuracy of the scientific information used in the reports. In general, comments on the nine reports raised the following themes: assertions that loss of sea ice reflects natural variability and not a trend; current population status or demographics do not warrant listing; new information justifies listing as endangered; and additional information is needed because of uncertainty associated with future climate scenarios. Commenters also re-iterated concerns and issues raised during the public comment period on the proposed rule. We have summarized the technical comments received from the public on the USGS reports and our responses to those comments in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service responses to comments on USGS reports prepared in support of the Polar Bear Listing Decision February 25, 2008. (pdf)

  • January 9, 2007- The Service proposed to protect the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA.) A proposed rule (pdf) that would add the polar bear to the federal list of threatened and endangered species was published on January 9, 2007, opening a 90-day comment period on this proposed listing. Concurrent with the proposed rule, the Service opens a public comment period to solicit scientific information on the taxonomy, distribution, habitat, loss of sea ice, and threats to polar bears. The Service also held 3 public hearings – two in Alaska and one in Washington, DC – to solicit additional scientific information and hear concerns from the public. In total, more than 670,000 responses were received.
  • The Service provided the proposed rule to list the polar bear as a threatened species to 14 individuals (pdf) with expertise in the fields of polar bear/marine mammal biology, climatology, sea ice behavior, and/or traditional ecological knowledge for peer review comments.
  • The Service received comments (pdf) from 13 of those reviewers, individual identifiers on the comments received have been removed, except for comments from the Marine Mammal Commission (pdf) who have independently posted their peer review comments to the world wide web.
  • Joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey power point presentation for informational meetings on the proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species. (ppt)
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service News Release (pdf) (1/11/07)
  • December 27, 2006 - In accordance with the court-approved settlement agreement, the Service submits a 12 month finding and proposes to protect the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Completion of the 12-month finding discharges the agency’s obligations under the settlement agreement.
  • Department of the Interior News Release (pdf) (12/2706)
  • December 21, 2006- The Service publishes the Range-wide Status Review of the Polar Bear.
  • Polar Bear Status Assessment (pdf)
  • Polar Bear Status Assessment Tables 1-3 (pdf)
  • The Service provided a draft of the Polar Bear Status Review to 12 experts in the field of polar bear biology, climatology, toxicology and/or traditional ecological knowledge for Peer Review Comment (pdf)
  • Peer Review Comments on the Polar Bear Status Review (pdf)
  • Peer Review Comments and Suggestions on the Draft Polar Bear Status Review (99mb pdf)
  • June 27, 2006 - The Service and petitioners enter into a stipulated settlement agreement and the Service agrees to complete and submit to the Federal Register a 12-month finding for the polar bear on or before
  • March 9, 2006 - Petitioners send the Service a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue for violating the ESA by failing to issue the 12-month finding within 1 year from receipt of the petition.
  • February 9, 2006 - The Service published a positive 90-day finding in the Federal Register, solicits public comment,and initiated a 12-month status review of the species as required under the Act.
  • Summary of Public Comments Received by the Service on Factors Affecting the Polar Bear (pdf)
  • December 27, 2005 - The Service receives additional information from petitioners. When the petitioners submit the new information, the Service extends the timeline for the completion of the 90-day and 12-month findings.
  • December 15, 2005 - Petitioners sue the Secretary of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to make the 90-day finding within the statutory timeframe.
  • October 11, 2005 - Petitioners send the Service a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue for violating the ESA by failing to issue a preliminary finding within the statutory 90 days.
  • July 5, 2005 - Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace, Inc. join the Center for Biological Diversity as petitioners.
  • February 16, 2005 - the Center for Biological Diversity files a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the polar bear as threatened world-wide under the Endangered Species Act and to designate critical habitat. The petition can be found at: http://www.eswr.com/latest/polarbearpetition.pdf
  • Endangered Species Act Petition Process fact sheet (pdf)

Critical Habitat


On January 10, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska issued an order vacating and remanding to the Service our December 7, 2010, Final Rule designating critical habitat for the polar bear.  Therefore, at this time, there is no critical habitat designated for the polar bear.

DOI Announces Final Designation of Polar Bear Critical Habitat (November 24, 2010)

DOI Press Release
Polar Bear Critical Habitat Fact Sheet (pdf)

CORRECTION: The fact sheet above has been updated. An earlier version included a different photograph with an incorrect credit attribution. The credit on that photograph should have read: ©Daniel J. Cox/PolarBearsInternational.org

Polar Bear Critical Habitat Questions and Answers (pdf)
Final Rule (pdf)
Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat designation for the Polar Bear in the United States (pdf - 3.8mb)
Literature Cited (pdf)

Detailed Critical Habitat Maps (January 26, 2011)
   Adobe Reader 10 is needed to view the updated maps.

U.S./Canada Border to Wainwright (pdf)
Wainwright to Shishmaref (pdf)
Shishmaref to Hooper Bay (pdf)

Critical Habitat Exclusion Map (pdf - 992kb)

General Maps ( pdf - 6.62mb)

Bathymetry Land Status
Final Designation of Critical Denning Habitat
Final Designation of Critical Barrier Islands and Denning Habitat

Spatial Distribution of Optimal Polar Bear Habitat (pdf)

ESRI Shapefiles (January 27, 2011)


USFWS Announces Public Meetings on Polar Bear Critical Habitat, Economic Analysis (June 9, 2010)

Press Release June 9, 2010


USFWS Releases Draft Economic Analysis of Polar Bear Critical Habitat (May 4, 2010)
Press Release- May 4, 2010 (pdf)
Federal Register Notice (pdf)
Draft Economic Analysis (pdf)
Economic Analysis Fact Sheet (pdf)
Questions and Answers (pdf)
Power Point Presentation - Anchorage (2.65mb - pdf)
Power Point Presentation - Barrow (2.3mb - pdf)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Polar Bear Critical Habitat (October 29, 2009)

Federal Register Notice (pdf)
Literature Cited (pdf)
Press Release (pdf)
Frequently Asked Questions (pdf)
Fact sheet (pdf)
Distribution of Polar Bear Sea Ice Habitat in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, 1989-1992

Detailed Critical Habitat Maps

U.S./Canada Border to Wainwright
Wainwright to Shishmaref
Shishmaref to Hooper Bay

General Maps ( pdf - 13mb)

Bathymetry Land Status
Proposed Designation of Critical Denning Habitat
Proposed Designation of Critical Barrier Islands and Denning Habitat

Spatial Distribution of Optimal Polar Bear Habitat (pdf)

ESRI Shapefiles 

Conservation/Management Plan for Polar Bears

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) listed the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as threatened in May 2008 (Final Rule), pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Section 4(f) of the ESA requires the Service to develop and implement a recovery plan for the conservation and survival of ESA-listed species, unless such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species.

The Conservation/Management Plan must include:

  • a description of site-specific management actions that may be necessary to achieve the plan’s goal for the conservation and survival of the species
  • objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination that the species may be removed from the ESA
  • estimates of the time required and the cost to carry out those measures needed to achieve the plan’s goal and to achieve intermediate steps toward that goal

Given the strong foundation provided by the 2008 Final Rule and the 1994 Conservation Plan, the Service is currently developing the Conservation/Management Plan with it's domestic and international conservation partners. Prior to final approval of a Conservation/Management Plan for the polar bear in Alaska, the public will be provided with an opportunity to review and comment on the draft Plan.

Conservation/Management Planning Meetings


Last updated: May 17, 2013