Alaskan Polar Bears: Too Little, Too Late


Last night, WC had a very pleasant dream. Donald Trump was stranded on the Chukchi Sea pack ice in mid-March, being stalked by a hungry polar bear. It was simple wish fulfillment, of course, a combination of the president-elects further denials of man-caused climate change and the very lame Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan released by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. But it was a very pleasant dream.

Checking Out the Driftwood

Checking Out the Driftwood

You will recall that the two Alaska populations of Polar Bears were declared an endangered species. Sarah Palin made the usual kind of ignorant noises. Former Governor Sean Parnell wasted state revenue challenging the endangered species classification in court and went down in flames.

Following an endangered species classification, a conservation management plan is developed. WC has mentioned before the weakness of the Ednagered Species Act process as it applies to species threatened by climate change. The regulators have no power to address the fundamental problem. The Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan is candid about the helplessness:

It cannot be overstated that the single most important action for the recovery of polar bears is to significantly reduce the present levels of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are the primary cause of warming in the Arctic.

The best prognosis for polar bears entails aggressive GHG mitigation combined with optimal polar bear management practices, which together could maintain viable polar bear populations in most regions of the Arctic (Fig. 3, Amstrup et al. 2010). To that end, this Plan provides a framework for USFWS and its partners to accomplish the latter goal, while governments, industries, and citizens throughout the world aspire to accomplish the former.

So the conservation management plan is a wretched list of actions intended to help the polar bears that don’t drown or starve to death as a consequence of the loss of sea ice less secondary risks: hunting, disruption by industrial activity, disturbance of denning sites. But these won’t preserve the North American population of polar bears. It might slow the rate of decline, but it won’t prevent or slow the loss of sea ice. It’s a plan which will fail without effective, nearly immediate international action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

And the incoming American president thinks that anthropogenic climate change is a Chinese hoax.

It will take longer for the world population of polar bears to go extinct. It will take the complete loss of sea ice as the northern Canada latitudes. That will take longer. But the United States population appears to be doomed. A victim of Donald Trump.

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