Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hordes Of Polar Bears

Why is it always The National Post that seems to present the "other side" to the global warming debate? Today's offering, "Polar Bears, Much Ado About Nothing". Don Martin:
The latest government survey of polar bears roaming the vast Arctic expanses of northern Quebec, Labrador and southern Baffin Island show the population of polar bears has jumped to 2,100 animals from around 800 in the mid-1980s.

Far be it for me to act as a climate- change denier, but that's hardly overwhelming proof of a species in peril in Canada, which claims roughly two thirds of the world's polar bear population.

Reading international coverage of the bear, it's obvious Canada has become home to the official poster species for extinction by climate change.

Everywhere you look, the "doomed" polar bear's story is illustrated...

But while Prime Minister Stephen Harper has embraced the religion of climate change and vows to combat it with billions of new dollars, the bear facts suggest the challenge facing our great white symbol may be more about too many bears than too little ice.

The "bear facts", case closed. Mr. Martin jumps all over the population numbers, but fails to present any context. If you want information on polar bear populations, it might be a good idea to ask someone like Dr. Andrew Derocher, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group. Do we listen to Mr. Martin, who's only exposure to polar bears was a half hour show on Discovery, that he watched one time, while home with the flu, or do we take our cues from the experts? I choose the latter:
The various presentations of biased reporting ignore, or are ignorant of, the different reasons for changes in populations. If I thought that there were more bears now than 50 years ago and a reasonable basis to assume this would not change, then no worries. This is not the case.

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— there is no argument from anyone on this point. Some populations recovered very slowly (e.g., Barents Sea took almost 30 years) but some recovered faster.

The point is that you cannot simply summarize the status of polar bears—the information lies in the individual populations. You cannot put the various time periods together into a simplistic overview. Sea ice is declining but again, it is not declining the same everywhere. Some small areas of multi-year ice may improve habitat for polar bears. This latter point, however, does not mean that the habitat in all areas will improve and the predictions are very clear that the primary habitat of polar bears is at risk.

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.

It's fine for The National Post to publish the polar bear number findings. What is intellectually dishonest, and a glaring example of an agenda, is arguing there are "too many bears". One thing The National Post isn't is "ignorant", they know exactly what they are doing.


ottlib said...

Too many bears!! Where is mayor Quimby and his bear patrol when you need them?

Don Martin and the National Post are grasping at straws. They have lost the "climate change existance" argument but like the tobacco companies when it was proven that smoking causes cancer, they are throwing out any fact that will support their quickly fading argument. I suspect it will be another decade before the likes of Mr. Martin and the National Post editorial board finally accept they lost.

bigcitylib said...

I thought about writing on this today. Basically, the head wildlife dude for the Nunavit government (Mitch Taylor) has produced an alternative set of polar bear numbers from the federal government people. Nunavit gets all sorts of cash from guiding hunters onto the tundra for polar bear pelts, and the number of bears that the locals can hunt depends on population numbers.

Mitch Taylor seems to be proposing an inflated set of numbers to get his constituents more pelts. If you read through the minutes of the Nunavit legislature (or whatever its called), they thank him for his efforts in fighting off U.S. efforts to have the bears declared threatened/endangered by producing these numbers.

What is interesting is the status of the document these numbers are supposed to be in. It may exist only in a provisional form. Some Inuit leaders are wondering about why they didn't get all the pelts they wanted (tags, I think they're called), and Taylor seems to be telling them the document is still undergoing scientific review.

If you're willing to scour through the local newspapers and gov. docs., you can trace some of the backstory. I might write about it or not.

Steve V said...

You should, and save me the trouble of looking ;)