More debate on counting polar bears

Polarcentric map showing in green the range of the polar bear across North America, Asia and Europe

The Globe and Mail reports that an an aerial survey released Wednesday by the Government of Nunavut indicates a healthy (perhaps growing?) population of polar bears on the western shore of Hudson’s Bay. While you’d think this would count as good news, the politics of climate change are such that it’s bound to become fodder in that persistent fight.

Is the count accurate? Is the information biased? What, if anything, does it mean? As the article explains:

The debate over the polar-bear population has been raging for years, frequently pitting scientists against Inuit. In 2004, Environment Canada researchers concluded that the numbers in the region had dropped by 22 per cent since 1984, to 935. They also estimated that by 2011, the population would decrease to about 610. That sparked worldwide concern about the future of the bears and prompted the Canadian and American governments to introduce legislation to protect them.

But many Inuit communities said the researchers were wrong. They said the bear population was increasing and they cited reports from hunters who kept seeing more bears.

According to the article, Andrew Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, said it was premature to draw many conclusions and added that some details in the survey pointed to a bear population in trouble.

This issue is complicated by the fact that it also involves money. Money raised by environmental organizations for which the polar bear is a poster child of looming extinction. Money needed by Inuit communities that still hunt polar bears under a quota system.

There’s much at stake in the debate. Population figures are used to calculate quotas for hunting, a lucrative industry for many northern communities. Hunting polar bears is highly regulated but Inuit communities can sell their quota to sport hunters, who must hunt with Inuit guides. A polar-bear hunting trip can cost up to $50,000. Demand for polar-bear fur is also soaring in places like China and Russia and prices for some pelts have doubled in the past couple of years, reaching as high as $15,000.

The Nunavut hunting quota in the western Hudson Bay area fell to 8 from 56 after the 2004 report from Environment Canada. The Nunavut government increased it slightly last year but faced a storm of protest. Over all, about 450 polar bears are killed annually across Nunavut. Mr. Gissing said a new quota is expected to be announced in June. (Editor’s not: Drikus Gissing is Nunavut’s director of wildlife management)

A glance at the comment page for the Globe and Mail article rings with a chorus of climate-change skeptics, who consider news reports of this type sweet vindication.

Because this matters most to the people who live in that area, here’s a link to the Government of Nunavut’s webpage on polar bears. Also, ‘local’ news coverage of this from Nunatsiaq online.

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39 Comments on “More debate on counting polar bears”

  1. JDM says:

    “Is the count accurate? Is the information biased? What, if anything, does it mean? ”

    I suggested that “science” can have bias with respect to global warming and other issues, and was “pooh poohed”.

    Now that the “science” is contrary to the prevailing winds of global warming, “bias” is ok to talk about.

    Interesting observation.

  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    There is also a growing and healthy population of bears on Spitsbergen ( Svalbard ) in Norway. That has been known for quite a while, just as it has been well known and very well documented that climate change is happening and that human activity is a strong contributing factor.
    It isn’t big news that population densities vary in different groups of animals. This is not the silver bullet JDM is looking for.

  3. Meme Mine says:

    Upon settlement, the polar bear was indigenous to as far south as Minnesota but called the yellow bear because it retained its summer coat longer, but still the same bear.
    The global scientific community is comprised of millions of people all over the globe and their “doomed” families. Why don’t they march in the streets for the “crisis”?
    Exaggeration perhaps?
    REAL planet lovers are happy, not disappointed a crisis wasn’t real because of exaggeration or any other reason. Why do you fear mongers WANT this misery for my kids? Climate changers are the real fear mongering neocons now.

  4. Peter Hahn says:

    both the “save the polar bear” environmentalists and the Inuit hunters are biased. but the way it works is that “we” will keep getting more data until the picture is clearer. sounds like its not there yet for that peninsula. it’s not in the Inuit’s interest for the polar bear population to crash.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    To listen to the “Global Warming experts” you would think the polar bear is a delicate creature without an ounce of brains and has no ability to adapt to the circumstances it finds itself in.
    If these experts want to help out the polar bear, they should go up there without guns and make nice with them. That way the polar bears will have plenty of food to eat.
    As to the Arctic Ocean becoming ice free, I can hardly wait because that will trigger the next ice age.

  6. Mervel says:

    But I think the issue should be Polar bears their environment and their place in the ecosystem; not global warming, or at least I think it should be the issue.

    Even if polar bear counts are increasing it does not mean global warming is not happening and if polar bear counts are decreasing it does not mean global warming is happening.

    This is where global politics gets in the way of science about a particular ecosystem and a particular species.

    Who cares if global warming is hurting or helping polar bears? It does not help the polar bear to know if that is true of false. What we need to understand is what is happening on the ground and what we can do to help or hurt in the next 5 years, it also impacts the day to day lives of native people living there.

  7. Mervel says:

    So if we find out polar bears are decreasing because of a particular disease totally unrelated to global warming, would we all just lose interest because we can’t use the plight of the polar bear to raise money for the “cause”?

  8. leslie johnson says:

    by Michael Rivero

    It is clear that government, the media, corporatized science, have quite literally bet the farm on selling the illusion of human caused global warming as justification for global taxes and global government. In order to bring about global government simultaneous with creating the illusion of a need they have to destroy the credibility of the regional governments and we have seen a great deal of this lately. Now the oligarchs face an awkward choice. They have set the stage for a collapse of the national governments, but the global government they wish to install in its place may be collapsing right along with the myth of global warning.

  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Polar bears are used as a symbol because they are photogenic and people like them. If they were dying of some disease chances are the fact they were getting the disease might be related to climate change – just as we are getting more tick borne diseases here in the North Country.

    Yes, environmental groups use pictures of cute animals to raise both money and awareness because they’ve been trying to get their message out for a very long time. There have been people saying “what we can do to help or hurt in the next 5 years” for decades but the people who don’t want to do anything have been working very hard and spending lots of money to convince lots of people that climate change isn’t happening, or that it is natural and not a result of human action, or that it is desirable. They are working hard to get people to think that working to limit the deleterious effects of global warming is going to cost us too much money when in fact if we had been working hard on this problem all along we would be a lot better off.

    Make no mistake, climate change is costing us untold amounts of money already and it is going to get worse before it gets better.

  10. Mervel says:

    Working for or against climate change won’t make any difference to the population of polar bears. Climate change is a long term affair, I am not making an argument against working to mitigate climate change. My only point was that I think climate change is not the only environmental, ecosystem issue we have to face.

    We need to continue to work on wetlands, continue to work on increasing natural forests and of course clean water and air and so forth just to name a tiny small amount of issues.

    Not every environmental issue is about climate change. Climate change is an issue that will take 100 years to solve at a minimum. The danger is that we spend all of our time and money and mental energy on an issue that no one country can really have an impact over, let alone any one person. It is certainly the popular topic right now, but I fear it is like one of those topics that because it is essentially unsolvable at the local level (beyond arguing about it), it relieves us from working on environmental issues that do have solutions.

  11. Pete Klein says:

    If you want to stop climate change, cut the human population by half. More humans equals more demand for energy.
    If you don’t want to do that, the Earth will cut the human population by 90%.

  12. sratchy says:

    I really wish polar bears weren’t hunted.

  13. JDM says:

    Pete Klein: “More humans equals more demand for energy. If you don’t want to do that, the Earth will cut the human population by 90%.”

    First, there is not an inverse relationship between population increase and rise in energy use. Ten years from now, both will be higher. Much higher.

    Second, let’s assume an accelerating increase in energy, including much more fossil fuel use, for the next 10 years. Please make a prediction on what the earth’s population will be. (higher or lower than now?)

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel: “it relieves us from working on environmental issues that do have solutions.”
    I agree and I disagree.
    The two are not distinct issues. Add up all the small local issues and you are helping to solve the climate change issue. When you save a gallon of gas, when you plant native tree, when you recycle an aluminum can, when you turn your heating down a degree in the winter and cooling up a degree in the summer you are helping to solve the climate change problem. And there are a million other small things to do.

    If one person does one small thing it wont do very much. But if 3 billion people do one small thing it can make a difference.

  15. JDM says:

    khl: “If one person does one small thing it wont do very much. But if 3 billion people do one small thing it can make a difference.”

    Let’s be real. If 10% in the US do anything, I’d be surprised.

    Meanwhile, China, for one, is going to do things opposite to earth-friendly things the teeny percentage of US citizens do. Probably a net 100-fold opposite. India, likewise. Other developing nations, likewise.

    Your hope that the population of the world is going to “go green” is more faith-based than anything I believe in. Actually, it will go-anti-green by a bigger percentage.

    You really are a man of faith.

  16. Pete Klein says:

    The problem with all current efforts to combat global warming/climate change is they are band aids. This is why I say population growth is what drives energy use.
    Most everyone in the world wants to live as Americans do and Americans don’t want to stop living like Americans. Wind and solar will not solve the energy needs. Nuclear could do much but everyone is afraid of it.

  17. Pete Klein says:

    Just as there was a rock group called “Counting Crows,” maybe now is the time for one called “Counting Polar Bears.”

  18. tootightmike says:

    It’s a terrible shame when human activity causes the extinction of a species, be it the dodo, the buffalo, the panda, or even the cod. It is downright immoral when we know what we’re doing, and refuse to stop. It’s criminal to deliberately preach lies to cover the truth.

  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    JDM, don’t be silly. Most of the world take these issues more seriously than Americans do. Even the Chinese are making efforts at greater efficiency. India is very concerned because of their large population and their reliance on water from the Himalayas (China too). Most Europeans are on-board with efforts to live sustainably.

    Pete is right about population control.

  20. Mervel says:

    Chinese people could care less about polar bears except possibly to buy their organs for some weird medicinal purpose, they are a HUGE problem when it comes to endangered species.

    Climate change is ONE environmental issue among many that we face. You can spend the next 100 years getting your 3 billion people to make a 1% change in their carbon; and yeah, good for us; Haiti will still be a wreck because they have decimated their forests. I just think we need to go far beyond this one issue and work on manageable issues.

    Climate change is important and a long term issue we must address, but if we wait to solve climate change the polar bears are doomed.

  21. JDM says:

    khl: “Even the Chinese are making efforts at greater efficiency. ” ???

    Can you qualify that remark?

    China is adding over 18 million cars per year. Mostly to former bicycle riders.

    I call that progress. Are you calling that efficiency?

  22. JDM says:

    India is the 2nd fastest growing market for cars next to China.

    They ain’t buying those battery-operated vehicles. Nope.

    Gasoline, baby. It’s the way of the future. Even Chevy Volt through in the towel.

  23. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    KHL is right about Pete K being right about the population problem.

    I often wonder if the technological advances that we have made in medicine will only hasten our own extinction.

  24. Walker says:

    “Gasoline, baby. It’s the way of the future.”

    Along with extinction of life on earth. After that, nature will reassert itself.

  25. JDM says:

    Walker: “Along with extinction of life on earth. After that, nature will reassert itself.”

    Please give us an approximate time-frame, so we can measure your prediction.

    I predict that we will have more people, more fossil-fuel use, and a cooler climate by 2020! That’s on a sliding scale. Every year between now and then will be up (except the climate, which goes up and down just fine on its own).

    The doomsday predictors had their say in the 1970′s and 1980′s.

    Al Gore, who predicted cities would be underwater by now, is laughing all the way to the bank – while he flies non-stop on his own private carbon-producing jet.

    The polar bears are watching that film of the isolated bear on a chunk of ice, and their probably laughing, as well, at us.

  26. JDM says:

    … and they’re probably laughing (wrong spelling)

  27. Walker says:

    Oh, I’d put the extinction of all life way off– hundreds or thousands of years. But I’d be very surprised if we don’t see tens of thousands of deaths attributable to global climate change in the next twenty years.

    I claim no special expertise, though.

  28. JDM says:

    Well, I guess we are safe never knowing if your predictions will come true in 100,000 years, or if human behavior is the cause of climate change in the next 20.

    On the latter, how will we know? If you predict 10,000 will die and only 9,999 died, how will we know if it was that 1 Chevy Volt that made the difference?

    I guess it will be things like this polar bear article that will allow some of us to continue to pooh pooh your dire predictions.

  29. mervel says:

    But that is the problem we jump on every random study to justify our other beliefs. This study should not be controversial. It shows bear numbers up a little and we should look at the study and methodology and so forth and also what it means if it is accurate etc.

  30. Walker says:

    “I guess it will be things like this polar bear article that will allow some of us to continue to pooh pooh your dire predictions.”

    Well, if we act on my belief, and it turns out I’m wrong, we will have spent some money needlessly. If we act on your belief and it turns out you’re wrong, tens of thousands will die needlessly, including, perhaps, your offspring. Your choice… I have no children.

  31. Walker says:

    Look, there is no doubt at all that monetary considerations sometimes shape scientific belief. But there is money to be made on both sides of this question. On the man-made climate change side, there are doubtless grants worth millions; on the Big Oil side, there are hundreds of billions at stake. Despite the direction of the imbalance, the majority of credentialed climatologists argue that climate change is serious, and that it is man-made.

  32. mervel says:

    One thing we could do is stop the government funded flood insurance program. Right now our tax dollars are supporting the building of mansions on sensitive coastal regions that due to increased storms and higher sea levels are prone to flooding. They could not buy private flood insurance, so the government gives them flood insurance. Maybe if we had to actually start to pay the price of global climate change we would respond differently.

    But this has nothing to do with bears.

  33. knuckleheadedliberal says:


    Truth is paradox.
    As Chinese people advance
    They use more and less.

  34. Lucy Martin says:

    But wait, there’s more…
    4 issues keeping polar bears in the spotlight: CBC reports more polar bears are turning up in Newfoundland, some bears coats seem decidedly unhealthy in Alaska, more debate about population counts in western Hudson Bay and a celebrity polar bear cub in Germany.

    And the Edmonton Journal’s Ed Struzik reports :

    “University of Alberta scientists Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher say the population is neither as ‘abundant’ nor as ‘healthy’ as a Nunavut Inuit organization claimed last week when it used the preliminary results of a recent survey to justify an increase in the annual harvest.”

    This ain’t over!

  35. Pete Klein says:

    I still think the polar bears would be a lot more healthy if they would learn to eat more humans. But then everyone would want to kill them.

  36. Ken Hall says:

    JDM contends “(except the climate, which goes up and down just fine on its own)”

    Climate is a relatively long term statistical analysis of meteorological data for a given region of the Earth. The current watering down of the terminology “global warming” to “climate change” is a pandering of the government and media to the conservative, anti-science, status quo and non-believers of the capacity for human endeavors to adversely affect the total temperature of the Earth.

    It has been well established, by scientists, that the the average temperature of the entire Earth has increased by nearly 1 degree Celsius in roughly the past 130 years. There is a constant harangue from the deniers that scientists using their current understandings of mathematics and physics are incapable of establishing the origins of the forcing functions which are producing these global warming trends. Comically these are the self same individuals who extol the virtues of their aircraft, automobiles, trains, … and especially their electronic toys such as I-Pads, Blackberries and computers all designed by scientists and engineers utilizing their current understandings of mathematics and physics.

    How is it rational for humans, especially Americans, to denigrate scientists and engineers who are attempting to educate and give warning, to the human population of the Earth, about a potentially disastrous chain of events, of which we are the creators, and simultaneously laud the highly technical inventions created by this same segment of our society as indispensable to our way of life?

    The Polar Bears demise and the northern climatic conditions becoming compatible with ticks are a couple of the hundreds of “canaries in the coal mine” events which humans have willfully decided to ignore as “inconsequential”. When as Pete Kline said “Earth will cut the human population by 90%”, how the many will wail.

  37. Mervel says:

    It is ironic that “technology, progress and science” point out global warming yet are the very causes of it.

  38. Ken Hall says:

    My apologies Pete’ I just noticed I butchered the spelling of your last name.

  39. Alan Gregory says:

    Puting this “debate” aside for a moment, it is a tragedy that one of America’s most well-known national parks, Glacier, has lost its trademark glaciers. The cause: The changing climate.

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