Polar Bear Expert: "The Bears Are Fine"

Politics Are Behind Hysteria About The Bears

Lorne Gunter/Edmonton Journal, Bear Hunting Magazine
Canadas Polar Bear
Numbers Are Increasing

"No evidence exists that suggests that both [polar] bears and the conservation systems that regulate them will not adapt and respond to the new conditions. Polar bears have persisted through many similar climate cycles."

There's a lot in that two-sentence statement from Dr. Mitch Taylor, polar bear biologist for the government of Nunavut, and one of the leading experts in the world on Ursus maritimus.

First, it shows that polar bears are currently not threatened. Not only that, there is every reason to believe they are going to stay that way.

Elsewhere this year, Taylor has written "At present, the polar bear is one of the best-managed of the large Arctic mammals. If all the Arctic nations continue to abide by the terms and intent of the [1973] Polar Bear Agreement, the future of polar bears is secure."

Second, Taylor's statement shows "no evidence exists" that polar bears or the ecosystems in which they live are threatened. He has admitted several times that climate change is affecting and will continue to affect the majestic white animals. But there is no reason to believe the effects will be harmful or lead to the bears' extinction.

Finally, Taylor's statement acknowledges what almost no environmentalists will: The current climate cycle is very similar to many others in the past.

There are man-made threats to the bears, most notably encroachment on their territory and slightly elevated levels of pollutants in their air, water and prey. Human activity may even be strengthening and quickening the current climate change (I don't believe it is, but I am willing to admit others do).

Our activities are not driving the bears to the brink of disaster. So curtailing our activities cannot prevent them from tumbling over an ecological precipice they are not teetering on in the first place.

There are 20 significant populations of polar bears around the top of the globe. Of the 13 in Canada, 11 are either stable or increasing in size. "They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present," according to Taylor.

The bear population of western Hudson Bay (the one most often cited by environmentalists) has declined over the past 25 years "and the reproductive success of females in that area seems to have decreased." Yet the reason seems to be that conditions for the bears there in the mid-1980s "were exceptionally good."

Every ecological cycle has its peaks and valleys. For bears in western Hudson Bay, the latest peak occurred two decades ago. The decline since has been neither precipitous nor unnatural.

What makes Taylor so sure man-made climate change is not causing the Hudson Bay bears to disappear? Some population has to be the first to feel the brunt of any disaster, after all.

"The neighbouring population of southern Hudson Bay does not appear to have declined," and another nearby population "may actually be over-abundant."

The same average number of cubs are being born to mother bears as in the past. (Some environmentalists have claimed triplets used to be the norm, but single cubs are now.) Nor have the bears extended the length of the weaning period, a sign they are having fewer cubs on average.

In Canada, where a decade ago our Arctic had 12,000 bears, Taylor and other bear specialists estimate there are now 15,000 bears, an increase of 25 per cent in just 10 years. Worldwide there are 22,000 to 25,000 polar bears, whereas 50 years ago -- before the first SUV, before Kyoto, before most people had even heard of the global warming theory -- there were just 8,000 to 10,000.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, under pressure from environmentalists, has recently announced that it is considered raising the bears' environmental status to "threatened."

Well, the real reason is politics. The White House has decided to go a bit "greener." Rather than attempt to explain the science behind climate change, and why most of the current change (if not all of it) is likely natural, the Bush administration has decided to pander to voters who have been whipped into an environmental tizzy by constant scaremongering by scientists, environmentalists and the media.

The official reason given for changing the bears' designation is that the ice they hunt on is melting.

So? The ice cover is cyclical, too. And in the past, as the ice has receded, the increased sunlight in the water has increased the food available to seals, who have themselves increased in number, providing polar bears with more food to eat.

Indeed, 50 years ago, when there were fewer than half as many bears are there are now, the planet was in the midst of a prolonged cold spell. Ice covered more of the Arctic and there were fewer seals.

Decreased ice also means the bears find it easier to get to land where there are more berries and other foods the big beasts love.

Much of this should be good news for environmentalists, because it is good for the bears. But as Taylor says, "good news does not seem to be welcomed."

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