Bear-faced Opportunism

With the bald eagle poised to come off the endangered species list (huzzah!), another species of charismatic megafauna is needed to replace it as the Endangered Species Act’s totem.  Step forward, the polar bear:

The Bush administration has decided to propose listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, putting the U.S. government on record as saying that global warming could drive one of the world’s most recognizable animals out of existence.

The proposal–described by an Interior Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity–stems from the fact that rising temperatures in the Arctic are shrinking the sea ice that polar bears need for hunting.

Just one problem with that.  Here’s Dr Mitchell Taylor, polar bear biologist for the Government of Nunavut in Canada:

One polar bear population (western Hudson Bay ) has declined since the 1980s and the reproductive success of females in that area seems to have decreased. We are not certain why, but it appears that ecological conditions in the mid-1980s were exceptionally good.

Climate change is having an effect on the west Hudson population of polar bears, but really, there is no need to panic. Of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada , 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present.

It is noteworthy that the neighbouring population of southern Hudson Bay does not appear to have declined, and another southern population ( Davis Strait ) may actually be over-abundant.

I understand that people who do not live in the north generally have difficulty grasping the concept of too many polar bears in an area. People who live here have a pretty good grasp of what that is like to have too many polar bears around.

One might suspect, given the ESA’s success in trumping the Constitution in recent years, that certain people are trying to use the Endangered Species Act to force regulation of greenhouse gases.  The fact that polar bears are not really affected by global warming doesn’t seem to affect this logic.