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The lease sale comes as Arctic sea ice has been dwindling at record rates, probably tied to warming caused by climate change. In September, US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists warned that "projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately two-thirds of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."
"Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by currently available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative," USGS reported.
All the more reason not to further interfere with polar habitat, environmentalists say, since the bears rely on sea ice for hunting and denning. "The chances for the continued survival of this icon of the Arctic will be greatly diminished if its remaining critical habitat is turned into a vast oil and gas field," says Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund's Kamchatka and Bering Sea program.