April 2, 2012

The March 26 front-page article “Captivity: A cold calculation to save polar bears” conveyed some of the challenges facing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners as we work to ensure the polar bear’s survival in the wild.

However, I want to clarify any misperceptions the article may have left about our position on the importation of polar bears for public display and captive breeding.

We care deeply about the future of the polar bear and are working with the world’s leading experts on the species to develop a recovery plan that will consider the need and appropriate role for captive breeding and other recovery actions. Until the recovery plan is completed, it is premature to say what, if any, legislative or regulatory changes may be required.

Unless the recovery plan identifies captive breeding as a priority, it probably will be impossible for importation of polar bears from Canada or other countries to meet the legal thresholds of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Zoos and aquariums will have a role in polar bear recovery, but that role has not yet been defined. This is not a “cold” calculus but one that merits careful consideration in light of good public process and policy.

Dan Ashe, Washington

The writer is director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.