Polar bears’ slim chances of survival
Ice loss linked to climate change is a primary threat – US experts
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 11 2017
AS THE Arctic warms faster than any other place on the planet and sea ice declines, there is only one sure way to save polar bears from extinction, the US government announced on Monday: decisive action on climate change.
In a final plan to save an animal which depends on ice to catch prey and survive, the US Fish and Wildlife Service identified the rapid decline of sea ice as “the primary threat to polar bears” and “the single most important achievement for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming” driven by the human emission of greenhouse gases.
“Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice,” the agency’s plan said, “it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered.”
That determination puts the plan itself on thin ice. Global climate change is out of the control of Fish and Wildlife, a division of the Interior Department. An international effort to address the issue was signed about a year ago in Paris, but president-elect Donald Trump has questioned US participation in a treaty that nearly 190 governments signed.
Trump has waffled on climate change. When asked about the human link to climate change following his election, he said: “I think there is some connectivity… It depends on how much.” He also said he would keep an open mind about the international climate accord and whether his administration will withdraw from it.
But he has also openly doubted the findings of more than 95 percent of climate scientists who say climate change is driven by human activity. In 2012, he tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created for and by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive”.
Fish and Wildlife officials declined to speculate on whether the next president will follow the guidance of its new plan. But the scientists had doubts about the survival of bears before Trump’s election.
“Even when we started the planning process, that was the discussion we were having… are we wasting our time here?” said Jenifer Kohout, deputy assistant director for Fish and Wildlife’s Alaska region and a co-chairwoman of the group that wrote the plan.
“We wanted this plan to partially tell that story,” she said, but to also show that there were other steps that could save bears, such as adjusting the number that can be harvested by Alaska’s native people depending on the rise and fall of the animal’s population. Indigenous people and state officials participated in forming the plan. Another step was to find ways to deter hungry bears drawn to human’s rubbish, so that fewer of them are destroyed.
For many observers, the concern about polar bears is odd because more of the animals exist now than 40 years ago, when protections against hunting were minimal. Scientists say about 19 populations make up an estimated 25 000 to 31 000 bears, including a subpopulation of about 3 000 that roam Alaska. Estimates of their increases and declines go up and down depending on which population is being counted. But researchers say 80 percent of the populations will collapse if sea ice continues to decline. Air temperatures at the top of the world are rising twice as fast as those in lower latitudes, resulting in significant ice melt, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We’re confident that absent action to address climate change, there would be very significant reduction in the range of polar bears,” said Michael Runge, a US Geological Survey ecologist and the plan’s other co-chairman. – Washington Post
IN PERIL: A polar bear on a tiny iceberg. Their living conditions are at risk as the climate is getting warmer.