Activity 5C: Reflect

Photo: Dave Sandford

Taking Action for Polar Bears

A Case Study

Let’s look at an example of a polar bear advocacy effort by the Oregon Zoo, Polar Bears International and Senator Jeff Merkley.


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 pose a significant threat to polar bear survival.

But much more than polar bear survival was at stake. We needed to be working on climate solutions together as a nation, not desperately hunting for oil and gas in one of the continent's few remaining wilderness areas.

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 an audience of millions and facilitated the public engagement. 

  1. 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.

  2. Content plan: Before announcing the call to action, we needed to tell a story about what was at stake. We developed a content plan including social media videos and an op-ed. 

  3. Key message prep: 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.

  4. 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 Amy Cutting, the zoo’s curator who oversaw polar bears. You can watch a recording of that livestream here.


Ultimately, strong opposition to the plan forced the delay and cancellation of the drilling lease. This was thanks to a much 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.


  • This campaign focused on online audiences. If you were a guest-facing animal care professional 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.