|Polar Bear Cubs or Radical Environmental Activists?|
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq does not know how Environment Canada scientist work.
This is the only conclusion you can reach when you read her following statement on polar bear research:
A lot of time, scientists latch on to the wildlife in the North, to state their case that climate change is happening and the polar bears will disappear and whatnot. But people on the ground will say the polar bear population is quite healthy. You know, in these regions, the population has increased, in fact. Why are you [saying it’s] decreasing? So the debate on that … My brother is a full-time hunter who will tell you polar bear populations have increased and scientists are wrong.
So what findings have scientists discovered regarding polar bear populations?
- Today, polar bears are among the few large carnivores that are still found in roughly their original habitat and range--and in some places, in roughly their natural numbers.
- Although most populations have returned to healthy numbers, there are differences between the populations. Some are stable, some seem to be increasing, and some are decreasing due to various pressures. A 2011 study found that 7 of 19 populations were declining.
- Some populations are still harvested quite heavily, and their status is uncertain.
In the future
- If current warming trends continue unabated, scientists believe that polar bears will be vulnerable to extinction within the next century.
- By 2040, scientists predict that only a fringe of ice will remain in Northeast Canada and Northern Greenland when all other large areas of summer ice are gone.
But shit, if Leona Aglukkaq's brother says the polar bear population is increasing, it certainly must be increasing.
You might be curious how the polar bear population are counted in the first place by those scientists. Canadian Geographic gives us the information.
So scientists end up counting bears in many different ways, including incorporating observations by knowledgeable local residents. But population estimates are just that: estimates. Some subpopulations of bears haven’t been counted in decades, if ever. And some are counted more frequently but with slightly different survey areas or methodologies from year to year. The Polar Bear Specialist Group, an international consortium of experts, classifies 10 of the 19 subpopulations as being “data-deficient,” which isn’t exactly conducive to a coherent discussion about how polar bears are faring worldwide.
So local residents are consulted? That would be consistent with Environment Canada's statement:
Environment Canada is combining science, experience and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to form the basis for our research. The inclusion of Traditional Knowledge helps to provide information on polar bear abundances, movements and behaviours, and provides valuable long-term perspective on changes in the population. This approach is unique, as Canada is the only country that considers Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge in the management and conservation of polar bears.
So if her complaint about scientists is off-base and irrelevant, what is it about the polar bear studies that she doesn't want to address? Here's a clue:
Even more troublesome is the fact that the number of cubs observed in the western Hudson Bay population is dramatically lower than in the past. While adult bears may be fat and savvy enough to survive a few lean years, juvenile bears reach a tipping point quickly. Despite the triumphal notes sounded by the Nunavut government, the study’s authors point out that the scarcity of cubs undercuts the entire hypothesis that “increasing numbers of bears … are the result of overall subpopulation growth."
What Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq wants to address is the same thing that
Natural Resources Minister Oil Minister Joe Oliver wants to address. The same thing that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird wants to address: oil. Petrostate indeed.
At the end of the day, what have polar bears done to promote jobs, growth and prosperity?