U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Polar Bears and the ESA

Endangered Species Act: Listing

Final Polar Bear Special Rule and Environmental Assessment (February 20, 2013)

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.

Status Assessments

Under the ESA, the Service is required to periodically review the status of the species. The most recent review was conducted in 2017. The 2006 status assessment was used to inform the 12-month finding, which was that listing the polar bear was warranted.

Critical Habitat

In 2010, the Service designated critical habitat for the polar bear through a formal rulemaking process.  The designation was set aside in 2013 as a result of legal challenges brought forward by several groups.  That action was recently reversed by the courts and the original designation has been reinstated. 
The Service’s final rule designating polar bear critical habitat, as well as maps of the critical habitat, and other important information may be found at:

UPDATE: These maps and GIS shapefiles are provided as general guidance for those interested in the geographic extent of polar bear critical habitat.  A detailed description of polar bear critical habitat is available in the Final Designation Rule.  When the Service designated polar bear critical habitat, we recognized the dynamic and ephemeral nature of some barrier islands in a changing environment.  Should new information become available that indicates a barrier island, land spit, or other geographic feature has changed, eroded, or formed, we will evaluate that information on a case-by-case basis with respect to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.  For more information please contact Sarah Conn, Service Field Supervisor, at sarah_conn@fws.gov

Conservation Management Plan

Thanks to the hard work of a diverse team of stakeholders, known as the Polar Bear Recovery Team, the Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan (Plan) is now complete. The Plan serves as a practical guide to implementation of polar bear conservation in the United States. It describes the conditions under which polar bears would no longer need the protections of the Endangered Species Act and lays out a collective strategy geared towards achieving those conditions. A parallel path is laid out for improving the status of polar bears under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

For additional federal register documents related to polar bear, please visit the Service’s Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS) polar bear page


For more information, contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Marine Mammals Management office at 1-800-362-5148.