NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 5, 2007

Polar bear populations are decreasing in the southern Beaufort Sea region of Alaska and the western and southern Hudson Bay in Canada.  As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service accepted a proposal last December to designate polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, says Scienceline.

Some prominent researchers suspect that changes in the climate are a leading threat to polar bear survival.  Polar bears are especially vulnerable to rising Arctic temperatures because they hunt, mate and usually make their dens on sea ice.  "There is no evidence they can survive on land without sea ice," says environmentalist Deborah Williams.

But, not everyone is convinced:

  • Mitchell Taylor, a polar bear researcher for the Canadian province of Nunavut, has submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposing listing polar bears as threatened, stating that only two populations of bears are decreasing.
  • H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow from the National Center for Policy Analysis noted the overall polar bear population has rebounded from about 10,000 to 20,000 and asserted that warm temperatures in the 1930s were similar to current conditions, yet polar bears survived then.

Those that see the general rise in polar bear population dislike the possibility of regulation for a species they feel doesn't need it.  "The law doesn't say to look at any possible future threat. It says look at the data…if it's not endangered then it's not endangered," said Burnett.  What counts is the number of polar bears that exist right now, not some possible decrease in the future.

Source: Emily V. Driscoll, "Are Polar Bears Victims of the New Cold War?" Scienceline, February 5, 2007.

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