The folks at Fox News say that a new book written by a fire fighter in a Canadian town known as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World" is proof that "the polar bears are doing just fine." However, years of extensive research by scientists shows that many areas populated by polar bears are in decline, and that these beautiful creatures are at risk of extinction due to climate-driven loss of Arctic sea ice.
Media Matters reports:
On the February 5 edition of Fox News' America Live, Trace Gallagher reported on a new book by firefighter Zac Unger that chronicles his experiences living in Churchill, Manitoba, a small town on the Hudson Bay that is known as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World." Unger planned to write a book about how climate change is impacting polar bear populations in the Arctic, but instead he concluded that "polar bears were not in as bad a shape as the conventional wisdom had led me to believe." Gallagher seized on this to suggest that despite being cast as a symbol of the impact of climate change, "the polar bears are doing just fine" and their populations are "exploding":
In fact, the polar bears located in the region that Unger lived in are one of 8 subpopulations in decline, according to a comprehensive review conducted in 2009. The following graphic illustrates the 19 distinct subpopulations of polar bears, only one of which is thought to be increasing:
While polar bear populations have increased since the 1970s thanks to conservation efforts, climate change could threaten "the survival of polar bears as a species," according to a 2004 assessment. And the U.S. Geological Survey projected in 2007 that changes in Arctic ice conditions could result in "loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."
And while Gallagher suggested that the prevalence of polar bears in the town of Churchill indicates that the population is "exploding," it may actually be a result of climate change. Polar bears in the region return to shore each year to await the freezing of the Hudson Bay in early autumn. But experts say that Arctic warming has already shortened amount of time that the bears can hunt for food in the bay, increasing the risk that bears will wander into town in search of food.
Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, chief scientist with Polar Bears International and USGS polar bear project leader for 30 years summarizes the threat to the polar bears succinctly:
"Polar bears depend on the sea ice surface for catching their prey. A shorter duration of ice cover over their productive hunting areas means less opportunity to hunt. A reduction in sea ice has been statistically linked to reduced stature and weight in polar bears and to lower survival rates of cubs. So,it doesn't really matter that hunting is now largely under control or that we know a lot about other impacts people might have on bears. Without habitat, polar bears will disappear no matter what else we do. If a farmer has 100 cows out in a pasture, and every year he goes out and paves over some of his pasture, pretty soon he won't have enough habitat to support 100 cows. And, each time he paves over a little more land, his remaining land will hold fewer cattle. There may be some short-term enhancements of the remaining habitat that will forestall the inevitable. But, when his whole pasture is paved there will be no cows! Declining habitat now and the assurance it will decline in the future is why polar bears were listed as a threatened species. Discussions about how many bears may have lived in the past before and after hunting quotas have no bearing on this new situation."
"Planetary physics require the world to warm as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, so without greenhouse gas mitigation, the ice will continue to melt. For an animal dependent on sea ice to survive, the prospects are not good. As the ice decline continues, the plight of the polar bear only can worsen."
Polar Bears Invade Canadian Town As The Result Of Climate Change: