- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007


On March 6, the Calgary (Alberta) Herald’s Don Martin wrote, “Their status ranges from a ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ species and could be declared ‘threatened’ if the Americans decide the polar bear will become collateral damage of climate change. Strange why nobody talks about ‘overpopulated.’ ”

The Canadian journalist says that despite his government’s $150-million pledge to pay for 44 International Polar Year research projects, one question remains unanswered: If the polar bear merits “threatened” status by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service why are the great bear’s numbers increasing?

Martin points out that the latest government survey of polar bears roaming the huge Arctic area that includes northern Quebec, Labrador and southern Baffin Island show that their population has jumped from around 800 in the mid-1980s to 2,100 currently. Three years ago an unofficial count came up at 1,400.

If you ask the native Inuit about the government’s methods that estimate bear numbers they’ll quickly point out that the scientists are way off. The wildlife biologists, say the Inuit, have greatly exaggerated the bears’ demise, yet no research team wants to put stock into the opinions of people who hunt polar bears.

However, last month a government biologist, Mitch Taylor, said, “The Inuit were right. There aren’t just a few more bears. There are a [heck] of a lot more bears.” (Incidentally, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears are believed to live in Canada.)

Martin wrote, “Their widely portrayed lurch toward extinction on a steadily melting ice cap is not supported by bear counts in other Arctic regions either.”

What ticks off Martin and other Canadians who aren’t affected by a lot of emotional show-and-tell is a heart-wrenching photo that has been seen in a number of publications. It’s of a female polar bear and her cub climbing onto an ice floe that appears to be in imminent danger of breaking into pieces. Martin believes there’s something wrong with that photo. “The photographer was clearly standing on something solid not far from his forlorn looking subjects,” he said.

So why wouldn’t that great swimmer, the polar bear, knock the photographer from his perch and climb onto a more solid piece of ice (perhaps even have the photographer for lunch along the way)?

Still, it is a fact that 7.7 percent of the ice cap has disappeared. As Martin says, “Something is happening.” But he also says that the challenge facing Canada may be more about having too many bears than too little ice.

Gene Mueller

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