NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Healthy Polar Bear Count Confounds Doomsayers

April 11, 2012

In the debate regarding global warming and its significant impacts on the world, the population of polar bears has long been a high-profile rallying point for doomsayers.  Decrying a significant decrease in the bear population over the last few decades, environmentalists have called for specific public policies that directly protect the bear population and broad laws that curb greenhouse gas emissions, says the Globe and Mail (Canada).

However, recent studies of the Nunavut region on the western shore of the Hudson Bay -- long recognized as a bellwether for how polar bears are doing elsewhere in the Arctic -- suggest strongly that the population is not as in danger as the environmental lobby has suggested.

  • In 2004, Environment Canada researchers concluded that the numbers in the region had dropped by 22 percent since 1984, to 935.
  • They followed this assertion by estimating that by 2011, the population would face a dramatic decrease to about 610.
  • Yet a recent Canadian government study, which involved 8,000 kilometers of aerial surveying last August along the coast and offshore islands, pegs the population at approximately 1,013.

Drikus Gissing, Nunavut's director of wildlife management, points out that this estimation, if correct, means that the polar bear population is actually managing healthy growth despite the challenges posed by environmental changes and hunting.

Canada's hunting regulations and rules are crucial in maintaining that population and protecting it from being poached to extinction.  This is because polar bear pelts remain extremely valuable and in high demand in places like China and Russia.

  • Prices for some pelts have doubled in the past couple of years, reaching as high as $15,000.
  • The Nunavut hunting quota in the western Hudson Bay area fell to eight from 56 after the 2004 report from Environment Canada.
  • Even with such quotas, about 450 polar bears are killed annually across Nunavut.

Nevertheless, Gissing points out that there are about 25,000 polar bears across Canada's Arctic, and that this is likely the highest point the population has ever reached.  This thoroughly undermines the arguments of critics who predicted the species' rapid endangerment.

Source: Paul Waldie, "Healthy polar bear count confounds doomsayers," Globe and Mail (Canada), April 5, 2012.

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