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Last updated at 16:42 GMT, Friday, 14 January 2011

Polar bears will be protected in Alaska

Summary

26 November 2010

The US government says land that oil and gas companies want to drill in Alaska is a crucial home for polar bears. Environmentalists hope this announcement will help save the endangered animals.

Reporter:
Rajesh Mirchandani

Polar bear in the snow

Polar bears are an endangered species

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Report

Right now in an icy den in the Arctic, a polar bear is giving birth to cubs, or is about to. But the very survival of this fearsome, majestic species concerns many humans.

Polar bears live and hunt on sea ice, but the frozen Arctic Ocean is melting at an increasing rate, a result, scientists say, of global warming caused by greenhouse gases.

Now the US government has designated nearly half a million square kilometres in Alaska as critical habitats for the polar bear. It covers an area of roughly twice the size of the United Kingdom, and it means any proposed economic activity there, must be weighed against its impact on the bears' habitat. It includes some of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, exactly where the oil company, Shell, wants to drill.

The designation itself doesn't ban oil exploration, but it adds extra hurdles that opponents say will harm the economy.

Environmentalists welcome the move, saying now they can write a recovery plan for polar bears, not an obituary.

Rajesh Mirchandani, BBC News, Los Angeles

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Vocabulary

majestic species

powerful animals with royal qualities

melting

turning from ice to water, caused by heat

global warming

a gradual increase in temperature around the world

designated

formally chosen or identified for a specific purpose

critical habitats

essential or crucial homes that are endangered

weighed against

compared with, considered carefully

oil exploration

digging deep to try and find

hurdles

obstacles or challenges to overcome

harm

damage, have a negative effect on

an obituary

here, a notice letting people know how polar bears in this area lived and died. (would be published if they died)

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