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Pre­pare now to save polar bears, say researchers

pub­lished 06 Feb­ru­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 06 Feb­ru­ary 2013
Polar bear arcticA Uni­ver­sity of Alberta (U of A) polar bear researcher and 11 inter­na­tional co-​authors are urg­ing gov­ern­ments to start plan­ning for rapid Arc­tic ecosys­tem change to deal with a cli­mate change cat­a­stro­phe for the ani­mals.

U of A pro­fes­sor Andrew Derocher co-​wrote a pol­icy per­spec­tive urg­ing gov­ern­ments with polar bear pop­u­la­tions to accept that just one unex­pected jump in Arc­tic warm­ing trends could send some polar bear pop­u­la­tions into a pre­cip­i­tous decline. The paper, titled “Rapid ecosys­tem change and polar bear con­ser­va­tion,” was pub­lished online on Jan­u­ary 25 as an accepted arti­cle in the jour­nal Con­ser­va­tion Let­ters.

You’re going to make bet­ter deci­sions if you have time to think about it in advance; it’s a no-​brainer
It’s a fact that early sea ice breakup, late ice freeze-​up and the over­all reduc­tion in ice pack are tak­ing their toll,” said Derocher. “We want gov­ern­ments to be ready with con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment plans for polar bears when a worst-​case cli­mate change sce­nario hap­pens.”

The effects of cli­mate change on polar bears are clear from both obser­va­tional and mod­el­ling stud­ies in many areas where the bears are found. Ear­lier stud­ies by Derocher and his col­leagues show that one very bad ice year could leave hun­dreds of Hud­son Bay polar bears stranded on land for an extended period. “Such an event could erase half of a pop­u­la­tion in a sin­gle year,” Derocher noted, and The man­age­ment options for north­ern com­mu­ni­ties like Churchill would range from doing noth­ing, to feed­ing the bears, mov­ing them some­where else or euth­a­niz­ing them.”

The con­cerned researchers say they’re not telling gov­ern­ments what to do. But they want pol­icy mak­ers and wildlife man­agers to start plan­ning for both the pre­dicted esca­la­tion of Arc­tic warm­ing and for an off-​the-​charts, worst-​case sce­nario.

You’re going to make bet­ter deci­sions if you have time to think about it in advance; it’s a no-​brainer,” said Derocher, adding that “con­sul­ta­tion with north­ern res­i­dents takes time and the worst time to ask for input is dur­ing a cri­sis.”

The researchers say the options for polar bear man­age­ment include what Derocher calls a “wild bear park model” — feed­ing and releas­ing the bears when freeze-​ups allow the ani­mals to get to their hunt­ing grounds. But the paper reports that the cost could run into the mil­lions and could have ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the ani­mals’ long-​term behav­iour.

The authors of the paper say gov­ern­ments should be aware of the fall­out from cli­mate change, and human safety in the North is going to be an increas­ing chal­lenge.

Around the world, polar bears are an iconic sym­bol, so any tragedy would pro­duce mas­sive atten­tion,” said Derocher. “If the warm­ing trend around Hud­son Bay took an upward spike, the pop­u­la­tion of 900 to 1,000 bears in west­ern Hud­son Bay would be on the line, so there has to be a plan.”

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Uni­ver­sity of Alberta. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Alberta News, 04.02.2013)
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