On Wednesday the Chicago Zoological Society (the organization that runs the Brookfield Zoo) hosted NRDC for a joint press conference about the plight of the world's polar bears and the urgent need for Congress to pass comprehensive global warming legislation.
Not willing to concede the overwhelming scientific evidence that polar bears are being inextricably driven to extinction by global warming, Jerry Agar, a talk radio host, posted a short blog entry on the website of Chicago's WLS Radio titled "Polar Bears Don't Need Saving." Four lines long, the post contains exactly two arguments: that polar bears aren't endangered because some native communities in Canada believe polar bears are doing fine; and, second, that the polar bears aren't endangered because in the 1960s there were an estimated 5,000 polar bears in the wild and today there are about 22,000.
Needless to say, neither of these arguments bear much scrutiny. What Jerry neglects to discuss, much less link to, is the (literally) piles of scientific studies showing that polar bears face deep population declines over the next fifty years. But don't take my word for it, just visit the U.S. Geological Survey, which recently completed nine in-depth studies which concluded that two-thirds of the world's polar bear population will most likely be extinct by 2050 because their sea-ice habitat is melting away. Want more scientific evidence? See here or here. As for those population numbers, 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 best:
The bottom line here is that it is an apples and oranges issue. The early estimates of polar bear abundance are a guess. There is no data at all for the 1950-60s. Nothing but guesses. We are sure the populations were being negatively affected by excess harvest (e.g., aircraft hunting, ship hunting,self-killing guns, traps, and no harvest limits). The harvest levels were huge and growing. The resulting low numbers of bears were due only to excess harvest but, again, it was simply a guess as to the number of bears.
After the signing of the International Agreement on Polar Bears in the 1970s, harvests were controlled and the numbers increased....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.
And how about those anecdotal accounts of abundant polar bears in Canada? Well, they are completely besides the point. The current polar bear population isn't the issue. Polar bears aren't endangered because their numbers are low now; they're endangered because the sea ice on which the bear depends to live is vanishing. I'll end with Dr. Derocher again:
It is an easy matter to put the dots together: no habitat, no seals; no seals, no bears...At the end of the day, the sea ice is disappearing. Take away the habitat and the species follows shortly thereafter (or before).