Polar Bear Researchers Urge Governments to Act Now and Save the Species

The authors of a global warming policy perspective paper say they are trying to get the message out to certain northern governments that they should be aware of the fallout from climate change, and that human safety in the North is going to become an increasing challenge. The paper, titled 'Rapid ecosystem change and polar bear conservation,' was recently published online on Jan. 25th of this year as an accepted article in the journal Conservation Letters.

University of Alberta professor and polar bear researcher, Andrew Derocher, co-wrote the policy perspective with eleven other international researchers urging governments with polar bear populations to accept that just one unexpected increase in Arctic warming trends could send some polar bear populations into a disastrous decline.

According to Derocher, "It's a fact that early sea ice breakup, late ice freeze-up and the overall reduction in ice pack are taking their toll. We want governments to be ready with conservation and management plans for polar bears when a worst-case climate change scenario happens."

The disastrous effects of climate change on polar bears are clear from both observational and modelling studies in many northern areas where the bears are found. According to earlier studies by Derocher and his colleagues, they 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 of polar bears in a single year," Derocher said.

Derocher went on to say that, "The management options for northern communities like Churchill in Canada would range from doing nothing, to feeding the bears, moving them somewhere else or euthanizing them."

The concerned researchers say they're not trying to tell governments what to do, but they want both 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. Consultation with northern governments take time and the worst time to ask for input is during a crisis", added Derocher.

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