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Environmental and Natural Resources Law

International Environmental Law Project reports: Polar Bear Habitat = World Heritage Site

February 03, 2014

The International Environmental Law Project at Lewis & Clark has issued a new report (authored by Professor Chris Wold and students Hannah McCausland and Karen Swift), The World Heritage Convention and Polar Bear Conservation: Creating a Transboundary Polar Bear World Heritage Reserve. The report describes how the World Heritage Convention can be used to build resilience for polar bear conservation by designating important polar bear denning and other habitat as World Heritage. The World Heritage Convention is the international treaty that protects places of “outstanding universal value,” such as the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef. It can do the same for the polar bear and its Arctic habitat.

By designating denning and other polar bear habitat as World Heritage, range States and other members of the World Heritage Convention can collaborate to help protect polar bears through capacity building, education, funding, and management support. The prestige of a World Heritage listing will promote conservation of these spectacular Arctic environments, leverage conservation dollars, and highlight to citizens of the world just how important the Arctic is for wildlife and humans alike. Building resilience will be the key to polar bear conservation as polar bear populations decline due to loss of its sea-ice habitat. Because many polar bear populations cross international boundaries, all five range States—Canada, Greenland (Denmark), Norway, Russia, and the United States—must cooperate to ensure the polar bear’s survival.

The transboundary nature of the polar bear reserve should also spur additional scientific research, particularly relating to climate change, in the region. Moreover, despite the spectacular beauty of the Arctic, as well as the cultural history and present-day cultural importance of many Arctic environments, the region is significantly underrepresented on the World Heritage List.

Read the full report here: