A bill recently introduced to US Congress (30 July 2020) is supposedly meant to “safeguard the Beaufort Sea polar bear’s denning habitat”. However, the bill is named the “Polar Bear Cub Survival Act”, which tells us this is an appeal to emotions rather than a call for rational decision-making. In fact, few Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear cubs are born on land in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the risks to them from oil exploration is not overwhelming.
Despite a modest decline in summer sea ice since 1979, only about half of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear females currently make their dens on the sea ice in late fall. Recent research confirms results from older studies that show denning females in Alaska are highly tolerant of the kind of disturbance associated with oil exploration and few dens are found more than about 1 km from the shore. This emotion-laden bill is not really about protecting polar bears: it’s a political move aimed at preventing oil exploration along the coast of Alaska after previous efforts failed. It comes ahead of an announcement today (18 August 2020) that the White House will begin to auction off leases for oil drilling in the ANWR.
Don’t let the ‘trust my word, I’m an expert’ hyperbolic testimony from activist scientists like Steven Amstrup and others hold sway on this issue – see for example “Alaska polar bear den disturbances part of ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ researcher says“ (biologist Wesley Larson on Alaska Public Radio, 14 July 2020), or activist conservation organizations Polar Bears International and World Wildlife Fund. Have a look at the facts on the matter taken from the published literature, which I summarize below (as many pdfs provided as possible).
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, Alaska Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, conservation, oil exploration, polar bear, Polar Bear Cub Survival Act, protection, Southern Beaufort
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they cannot determine with certainty that walruses are likely to become endangered “in the foreseeable future,” which the agency defines as the year 2060.”
(CBC, 4 October 2017).
“The agency said in 2011 that walruses deserve the additional protection of being declared threatened, but delayed a listing because other species were a higher priority.
The agency revised the decision based on new information, said Patrick Lemons, the agency’s marine mammals management chief.
“Walrus demonstrated much more ability to change their behaviours than previously thought,” Lemons said. Their ability to rest on shorelines before swimming to foraging areas makes the threat of less sea ice uncertain, he added.”
And the proposed coastal refuge won’t protect the denning areas of the majority of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, because most females den out on the sea ice, not on land.
The folks at Polar Bears International (PBI) are crowing with delight at the announcement today that US President Obama has recommended that congress approve plans to implement a proposed an Arctic wildlife refuge area that would include the Arctic coastal plain [see links below, including Obama video].
And in doing so, they mislead the public about how many polar bears use this region of coastal Alaska — as do the US Fish and Wildlife Service on their Refuge website.
Posted in Advocacy, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, coastal, denning females, Fischbach, polar bear, protection, Refuge, Schliebe, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, thick spring ice, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS
Soviet soldier in a tank, feeding condensed milk to polar bears c. 1950 (i.imgur.com), via Redditt 16 November 2014.
“Sponsored by the Russian Dash Cams Association. Reminding you to drive your tank safely and avoid hitting polar bears.”
Apparently, polar bears are attracted to tanks as they are to ships and submarines, which made them easy targets for men with guns. This, along with the rather extensive use of so-called ‘set guns’ (a baited apparatus fixed with a loaded shotgun), led to a significant decline of polar bears in the U.S.S.R. and the Barents Sea area by the 1950s. See also, “The slaughter of polar bears that rarely gets mentioned (ca. 1890-1930)”
This was the real threat to polar bears and it was successfully halted by international agreement in 1973. We should not forget that polar bears are a conservation success story.