Apples and Orange Groves

I normally don't respond to every argument by folks who oppose protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act because, well, it's just not worth the bother.  But this bit of idiocy in the Miami Herald just cries out for a response.  It's not that Ben Lieberman makes any new or particularly interesting arguments--he doesn't--it's that one of his arguments gets repeated far too often.  Lieberman says of protecting the polar bear:

It might make sense -- if the polar bear were endangered. But the worldwide population of these bears has more than doubled since 1965, to an estimated 20,000-25,000 today. Far from being threatened, by all accounts the bears are thriving.

Now it is true that the worldwide population of polar bear has increased since 1965, from what was once thought to be about 5,000 or 6,000 bears to 20,000 - 25,000 today.  But, as I previously explained in another post, polar bear populations have increased because we stopped killing them. In the 1950s and 60s there simply were no controls on the harvest of polar bears.  Today, Norway and Russia prohibit polar bear hunting entirely (although poaching still remains a concern) and hunting in the United States is strictly limited to subsistence purposes.  Canada has also significantly reduced harvest levels, although some populations are still being culled at an unsustainable rate.

Now, you may well be asking yourself, what does this have to do with the threat to polar bears from global warming?  Not a thing.  The increase in polar bear population numbers in the last few decades is simply irrelevant to whether or not polar bears are imperiled by rising temperatures in the Arctic, which are literally melting away the habitat (frozen sea ice) on which they depend.  Why doesn't Lieberman want to talk about that evidence?  Well, probably because the evidence of retreating of sea ice and its affect on polar bears is so strong.

As Dr. Andrew Derocher, one of the world's leading experts in polar bears and Chairman of the Polar Bear Specialists Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature puts it "Comparing declines caused by harvest followed by recovery from harvest controls to declines from loss of habitat and climate warming are apples and oranges. Ignorant people write ignorant things."