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Polar bears descend on Moscow

Polar bear sow and two cubs, in AlaskaPolar bear (Ursus maritimus) sow and two cubs walking on ice and snow in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

This week, we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of a turning point in global polar bear conservation.

40 years ago the polar bear countries – United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland (Denmark) and Norway – made forward-thinking conservation commitments that helped several polar bear populations stabilize and largely recover from the historic threat of over-harvest. The countries are coming together again this week in Moscow, for the first International Forum on the Conservation of Polar Bears.

They will be celebrating the past 40 years, but they also need to plan for the next 40 — addressing the realities of a changed Arctic and a new major threat to the species: global climate change. As the Arctic ice cap recedes each year, issues that were unthinkable when the Agreement was signed are now at the forefront; Shipping and oil and gas development are increasing faster than governance can keep up, while distribution changes are forcing bears into greater conflict with people.

Yet in many ways, polar bears have a better chance at survival now than in 1973. Thanks to the Agreement, harvest is largely controlled. The role of Indigenous people in polar bear conservation and management since the Agreement was signed has changed remarkably and positively. We have an opportunity to take action that will help to conserve polar bears before their habitat is irreparably changed.

Will these countries lead the way again? We’re asking them to make meaningful commitments to polar bear conservation in the coming years. Add your voice, and we’ll share your message on the blog.

Thanks to Susan Novotny from WWF Canada for her input on this blog post.

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