Activity 5C: Reflect

Photo: Dave Sandford

Taking Action for Polar Bears

A Case Study

Polar Bears International teamed up with the Oregon Zoo and Senator Jeff Merkley to raise awareness and drive action to protect an important polar bear denning ground.


In November of 2020, the White House began a process to auction off drilling sites in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — the denning ground for a third of the threatened Southern Beaufort Sea population of polar bears.

Research by Polar Bears International and the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that proposed oil and gas activities in the refuge posed a significant threat to polar bear survival.

Anatomy of a campaign

Working with Polar Bears International and Senator Jeff Merkley, the Oregon Zoo developed a plan to raise awareness about the threat to polar bears in the refuge, and an action strategy to put a stop to it.

Each team member offered an important element that when combined, helped paint a complete picture of the issue and reached a broader community. PBI developed the science, Sen. Merkley was driving policy action and the Oregon Zoo had access to vast community of polar bear and wildlife fans eager to engage.

  1. Content plan: We needed to show our community what was at stake. We developed a content plan including social media videos and an op-ed.

  2. Key messages: We knew that our community would have questions about the issue, so we developed a FAQ for quick reference when replying to social media comments.

  3. Livestream: To offer our community a chance to engage directly with science and policy leaders, the zoo produced a Facebook Live with Senator Jeff Merkley and PBI chief scientist Steven Amstrup, moderated by the zoo’s curator polar bear.

  4. Call to action: The Bureau of Land Management asked the public to comment on the proposed lease. Our goal was to drive as many comments in opposition as possible to their comment portal, via a webform on the Oregon Zoo website, in order to stop the lease.


Ultimately, strong opposition to the plan forced the delay and cancellation of the drilling lease. This was thanks to a broader, national effort that joined forces at the right moment to raise the alarm and speak with a unified voice. The PBI - Senator Merkley - Oregon Zoo effort played an important role, reaching tens of thousands of people across the US and generated more than a thousand comments.

ANWR continues to face threats, but this campaign demonstrated that collective advocacy can have a direct, immediate impact on the survival of polar bears and advance climate action.

  • Questions:
    This campaign focused on online audiences. If you were guest-facing education staff at the Oregon Zoo, how would you have integrated the campaign goals into your work?

Polar bear mom twin cubs snuggle

Photo: Tim Auer / Polar Bears International


Continue on to Activity 5D–Apply.