Polar Bear Decline Somewhat Exaggerated

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Still hanging in there

Good news about polar bears—there are more than many enviromental lobbyist thought. Back in 2008, the Department of Interior listed polar bears as a "threatened" species. The best available science suggested that global warming is causing a loss of sea ice which according to ScienceDaily

….threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat.  This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species. 

News stories report now that in a new survey of polar bears around Hudson Bay, a population which is thought to be especially threatened by higher temperatures because they are at the southern end of the species' range, researchers have found more bears than their models predicted: 

An aerial survey done in August by the Nunavut government, in response to pressure from Inuit, estimated the western Hudson Bay bear population at around 1,000.

That's about the same number of bears found in a more detailed study done in 2004. That study, which physically tagged the bears, predicted the number would decline to about 650 by 2011.

Last year's survey found fewer cubs — about 50 — than in previous years, but officials say the new figures show the "doom-and-gloom" predictions of environmentalists about the demise of the polar bear have failed to come true.

"People have tried to use the polar bear as a bit of a poster child — it's a beautiful animal and it grabs the attention of the public — to make people aware of the impact of climate change," said Drikus Gissing, Nunavut's director of wildlife management.

"We are not observing these impacts right at this moment in time. And it is not a crisis situation as a lot of people would like the world to believe it is."  …

"The population was continually harvested since 2004," he said. "A lot of animals have been removed from that population … so that should have resulted in a much steeper decline than the one that was predicted in 2004."

In order to "balance out" the good news with gloom, an enterprising reporter need only turn to an environmental lobbyist: 

Peter Ewins, director of species conservation at World Wildlife Fund Canada, said there are other signs the polar bear population is suffering due to climate change.

Hudson Bay polar bears have lost about six weeks of hunting time on the winter ice due to climate change because the freeze often doesn't come until late November and the ice thaws earlier in the spring. With less time to hunt seals, Ewins said he has seen the deteriorating condition of the bears first-hand on many research trips to the North.

When the survival rate of polar bears, the health and number of cubs and their fat score are considered, Ewins said, everything points to a population in trouble.

It turns out that polar bears do not stand on the shore starving as they forlornly look at retreating sea ice, they adapt. Instead of hunting seals, they hunt goose eggs.

But remember folks, environmentalists are never wrong; doomsday always has merely been postponed.