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USFWS Proposes Critical Habitat for Polar Bears

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to designate 200,000 square miles of Alaska and adjacent ocean as critical habitat for the endangered polar bear.

The agency listed the polar bear as endangered in May 2008 citing, among other factors, shrinking ice pack and other habitat loss caused by climate change. About 93 percent of the area proposed for the polar bear is sea ice, with the remaining 7 percent made up of barrier islands or land-based dens of snow and ice.

Polar bears are the largest of the bear species and the only one evolutionarily adapted to the arctic sea-ice and marine habitat. Polar bears occur in 19 relatively discrete populations across the arctic with two populations in the U.S.: One called southern Beaufort Sea population, which extends into Canada; and the Chukchi and Bering Seas population, which extends into the Russian Federation.

On July 16, 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and, Greenpeace, Inc., filed suit against the USFWS for failing to designate critical habitat for the polar bear at the same time the bear was listed. The agency and the environmental groups reached a settlement which requires Fish and Wildlife to submit a final critical habitat determination for the polar bear on or before June 30, 2010.

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