Scientists: Polar Bears Are Thriving Despite Global Warming

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Two recent reports warned that global warming threatens polar bear populations across the world, but the warnings in those reports obscure today’s reality about polar bears — they are doing just fine, according to experts.

“They appear to be as abundant and as productive as ever, in most populations,” Dr. Mitchell Taylor, a polar bear expert with more than 30 years of experience who teaches at Lakehead University in Canada, told the Roy Green Show.

Taylor was responding to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey which warned that one-third of polar bears could be in danger from global warming by 2025 if nothing is done to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

“Addressing sea ice loss will require global policy solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and likely be years in the making,” Mike Runge, a USGS research ecologist, said in a statement. “Because carbon emissions accumulate over time, there will be a lag, likely on the order of several decades, between mitigation of emissions and meaningful stabilization of sea ice loss.”

But Taylor said this warning was based on climate models, not empirical data. Taylor said in “essence it’s an expression of their opinion … it’s simply their idea of what will happen if the carbon models are correct.”

“[I]t’s not an empirical result, it’s not taken from data, it’s simply a collection of the people who contributed to this Bayesian network model,” Taylor told the Roy Green Show. “But I guess in the north country, where the polar bears live, we prefer to go by the data and by what local people say.”

Today, there are significantly more polar bears than there were 40 years ago, despite the animal being listed under the Endangered Species act in 2008 over fears global warming would destroy its Arctic habitat. Official estimates put the total number of bears between 20,000 and 25,000, but this number is really just a “qualified guess” and the actual number is likely higher.

Traditionally, polar bear’s biggest enemy was overhunting by humans, but in the last few decades international efforts to restrict hunting and trading of polar bear parts have replenished once diminished populations.

“[T]hey’ve said that polar bears were declining in Western Hudson Bay, subsequent surveys showed they were wrong … said polar bears were declining in Western Hudson Bay and polar bears are not declining there, polar bears are staying about the same,” Taylor said. “They’re – they’re warning that this will happen, that no-one is seeing it happen yet.”

“And for us, living up in the north, where 365 days a year – you know, climate has been evolving over a number of years, bears have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and they’ve gone through various cycles of climate change,” echoed Gabriel Nirlungayuk, the Deputy Minister of the Environment in Nunavut.

“But in my lifetime, anyhow, we haven’t – I have yet to see declining of polar bears, of climate change,” Gabriel told the Roy Green Show. “And one is Western Hudson Bay, which was projected to be in decline 20 years ago – up to now, it should be less than 300 bears but we’re seeing that the numbers have not really changed.”

It was only a couple weeks later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its 5-year conservation plan for polar bears — the underlying theme was that global warming was a major threat to polar bears.

“Today, polar bears roam the frozen north, but as their sea-ice habitat continues to shrink due to Arctic warming, their future in the U.S. and ultimately their continuation as a species is at risk,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service report. “Their eventual reprieve turns on our collective willingness to address the factors contributing to climate change and, in the interim, on our ability to improve the ability of polar bears to survive in sufficient numbers and places so that they are in a position to recover once the necessary global actions are taken.”

The report was criticized by veteran zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford who argued the conservation plan was flawed and an attempt to drive more funding to government programs.

“It’s still based on the same flawed ecological premise as all previous models – it assumes that sea ice was a naturally stable habitat until human-caused global warming came along,” Crockford wrote on her blog. “It also uses slight-of-hand maneuvers to correlate declining summer sea ice and declining polar bear population numbers.”

“What the report does is assure the FWS funds, over the next five years, to continue spreading alarm regarding greenhouse gases, continue their current and planned polar bear subsistence harvest management plans, and make additional plans to deal with polar bear problems that may or may not arise,” Crockford wrote.

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