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Resilient Habitats: Ecosystems

Arctic Coast

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polar bear (Ursus maritimus)
America Arctic is our nation's final conservation frontier. The coastal waters, rolling tundra, wild rivers, and precious wetlands, ponds, and deep lakes of the Arctic support a stunning array of wildlife. Nearly 200 bird species nest on the tundra and wetlands, while caribou, musk oxen, wolverines, and grizzly roam the vast expanses of wild lands.

Of all the Arctic's denizens, perhaps none is more emblematic-or imperiled-than the polar bear, the world's largest land carnivore. They are considered marine animals because they spend so much of their life at sea, on the pack ice. Excellent swimmers, they are sometimes sighted in open waters more than 200 miles from land.

Polar bears feed almost exclusively on seals, and their survival depends on sea ice as a platform for hunting. Individuals can travel thousands of miles in a year, following the seasonal advance and retreat of sea ice, where they do most of their mating and denning.

But global warming is wiping out sea ice habitat, vastly decreasing successful hunts. Declining snowfall and thinning or disappearing pack ice are forcing the bear to spend more time and energy hunting, and difficulty in locating prey has been linked to cub mortality and reduced weight in adults. Only about 20,000 polar bears remain in the wild, and the animal could be extinct by 2050 if their habitat melts away due to climate change.

Average temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere the world, with devastating effects not only on sea ice, but on tundra, permafrost, and forests. Melting sea ice makes coastal areas more vulnerable to storm surges. Thawing permafrost accelerates erosion. Rising temperatures increase the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires, and are already causing insect outbreaks in the tundra and forests.

The Sierra Club is working with the Obama administration and Congress to permanently protect America's Arctic from additional threats posed by drilling and mining that could push wildlife over the brink. Among the Club's specific objectives:

  • Secure action from President Obama to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by declaring it a National Monument
  • Convince the Department of the Interior to issue an administrative minerals withdrawal for the areas in and around Teshekpuk Lake, located in the National Petroleum Reserve
  • Urge administrative protection for the Utukok Uplands, in the National Petroleum Reserve, from the exploration and development of coal resources
  • Secure an administrative "time out" on new oil and gas leasing and exploring in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas
  • Reinstate the presidential moratorium on offshore oil and gas activities in Bristol Bay
  • Ensure that resilient habitats principles are incorporated into new management plans for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve, and offshore in Bristol Bay and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas

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