Human-polar bear conflicts: Stirling 1974 vs. Amstrup 2013

What a difference a few decades makes to attitudes about human-polar bear conflicts:

Ian Stirling, 1974:

Dr. Stirling felt that complete cessation of hunting, such as exists in Norway, may increase bear-man conflicts. Dr. Reimers replied that the careful harvesting of polar bears was probably desirable, but the total ban now in effect was largely an emotional and political decision rather than a biological one. Last year four bears were killed in self-defense.” [my bold]
(1974 PBSG meeting “Norway – progress reported by [Thor] Larsen”; Anonymous 1976:11).

Stephen Amstrup, 2013:

“We have predicted in no uncertain times [sic – terms?] that as bears become hungrier as the sea ice absence period is longer, more and more of these animals are going to be venturing into communities, venturing into villages, raiding food caches, getting into garbage, and even attacking people. So we predict these kinds of events are going to be more frequent and more severe because of climate change. [my bold]
(The Guardian, November 4, 2013).


I commented on Amstrups remarks at the time in this post: “Churchill polar bear attack shamelessly used to advance global warming agenda.”

While it seems climate change is now the sole scapegoat for a perceived ongoing increase and/or predicted future increases in human-polar bear conflicts, this is a simplistic and scientifically unsupportable conclusion. It is yet another example of anecdotal observations being treated like scientific evidence used to make a case for global warming — just like activist polar bear researchers have done with respect to cannibalism and collapse of snow dens.

It is clear to me that a number of other factors may be significant contributing causes of the phenomenon of increased human-polar bear conflicts (where there is, in fact, a real increase). Depending on the specific situation, one or several of the following issues may even be the primary cause.

Blaming climate change exclusively for human-polar bear conflicts ignores a number of other influences, including:

  • Vastly increased polar bear populations relative to 40 years ago.
  • Hunting bans or restrictions (hunting keeps population numbers down and may keep bears more wary of humans).
  • Overall increased human populations in the Arctic – see Fig. 2.
  • Burgeoning tourist industry (seasonal human population increases) – see Figs. 1 & 2.
  • Burgeoning oil & gas exploration & extraction (seasonal human population increased) — See Fig. 2.
  • Habituation of bears to humans, encouraged to assist tourism.
  • Risky behavior by naïve polar bear viewers and photographers – see Fig 1.
  • Complacent behavior by residents (trusting community polar bear alerts &/or patrols to keep them safe).

[Update Nov. 17, 2013 4:00 PM On a similar topic, check out PolarBearAlley for Kelsey Eliasson’s just posted Open Letter to Manitoba’s Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship, regarding treatment of problem bears in Churchill.]

 Figure 1. From T. DeBruyn, 2011. Slide 1 from “Activities in polar areas – tourism.” Presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, USA contingent. Oct 24-26, 2011.


Figure 1. Habituation of bears to humans and people getting too close.
From T. DeBruyn, 2011. Slide 1 from “Activities in polar areas – tourism.” Presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, USA contingent. Oct 24-26, 2011.

Figure 2. From T. Hepa 2011. Slide 3 from “Human-polar bear interactions in Northern Alaska.” Presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, USA contingent. Oct 24-26, 2011.

Figure 2. From T. Hepa 2011. Slide 3 from “Human-polar bear interactions in Northern Alaska.” Presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, USA contingent.
Oct 24-26, 2011.


References

Anonymous. 1976. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 5th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 3-5 December, 1974, Le Manoir, St. Prex, Switzerland. Gland, Switzerland IUCN. http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/meetings/

T. DeBruyn 2011.
T. Hepa 2011.
Both from this presentation: USA_Polar bear-Human Interactions

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