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New plan issued to help polar bears survive in Alaska

By Melissa Frey 8:35 PM January 9, 2017

A new plan to improve polar bear survival was released Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage.

Their research shows the biggest risk for polar bears continues to be Arctic warming and loss of sea ice habitat, but the bears face other risks as well, which Fish and Wildlife officials believe would contribute to their population decline if not addressed.

Scientists, native communities, oil companies and the U.S. government worked together to form this plan.

“When we started this process we sat down with a really diverse team, a lot of those folks had sued us over even listing the bear in the first place, but when we talked about the importance of the planning effort, everyone at the table agreed they did want to have polar bears in Alaska,” said Jenifer Kohout, Recovery Team and Policy Work Group co-chair, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The hope is that by reducing the number of conflicts between humans and bears, managing the harvest, protecting the bear’s habitat and reducing risk from oil spills, the outcome for polar bears will be positive.

“I think it maps out a good plan for us in the near term and midterm in terms of our actions and what we can do to preserve polar bears,” Kohout said. “My hope is that we use it as a launch pad to have that same diverse group and voice together as we go forward in terms of better coordinating our efforts and our priorities and doing good work for polar bears.”

It’s estimated there are currently about 26,000 polar bears in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects polar bear numbers to drop dramatically near Alaska if no changes are made.

The full polar bear recovery plan can be found here.

KTVA 11’s Melissa Frey can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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