compiled by Dee Finney


Date: April 11, 2007

IPCC Report - The Arctic: Thawing Permafrost, Melting Sea Ice And More Significant Changes

Science Daily Dramatic changes to the lives and livelihoods of Arctic-living communities are being forecast unless urgent action is taken to reduce greenhouse gases, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Its Working Group II predicts wide-ranging thawing of the Arctic permafrost which is likely to have significant implications for infrastructure including houses, buildings, roads, railways and pipelines. A combination of reduced sea ice, thawing permafrost and storm surges also threatens erosion of Arctic coastlines with impacts on coastal communities, culturally important sites and industrial facilities.

One study suggests that a three degree C increase in average summer air temperatures could increase erosion rates in the eastern Siberia Arctic by three to five metres a year. In some part of the Arctic, toxic and radioactive materials are stored and contained in frozen ground. Thawing may release these substances in the local and wider environment with risks to humans and wildlife alongside significant clean up costs.

Warmer temperatures also represent new economic opportunities but also challenges in the Arctic. Declines in sea ice are likely to open up the Arctic to more shipping, oil and gas exploration and fisheries. A comprehensive sustainable development plan is urgently needed for the region to maximize the opportunities and minimize potentially damaging impacts.

The future health and well being of Arctic peoples is a major question. The report, part of the IPCC’s fourth assessment, recognizes that Arctic communities and indigenous peoples lives and livelihoods are intimately linked with their environment but that this is already changing.

Inuit hunters are now navigating new travel routes in order to try to avoid areas of decreasing ice stability that is making them less safe. In the future, increased rainfall may trigger additional hazards such as avalanches and rock falls. Inuit hunters are also changing their hunting times to coincide with shifts in the migration times and migration routes of caribou, geese as well as new species moving northwards.

Some impacts of climate change may improve human well-being. Opportunities for agriculture and forestry may increase. There is evidence that Arctic warming could reduce the level of winter mortality as a result of falls in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths.

But this will have to be set against possible increases in drought in some areas, the emergence and survival of new pests and diseases, likely contamination of freshwaters and health and psychological impacts of the loss of traditional social and ‘kinship’ structures.

However, it is likely that in order for Arctic communities and cultures to survive and conserve their centuries-old ways of life decisive emissions reductions will be needed alongside adaptation to the climate change already underway.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “The costs of climate change are already being paid by the peoples and communities of the Arctic. The report underlines how this bill is set to rise unless action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions”.

“The communities and Indigenous peoples of this region are skilled in adapting to harsh and often dramatic changing conditions including sharp fluctuations in the scarcity and in the abundance of land and marine resources. However, the rapid changes likely in the future may overwhelm traditional coping strategies. It is thus also vital that communities are assisted in climate proofing centuries-old lifestyles in order to survive and to thrive through the 21st century,” he added.


By the mid-21st century, the area of permafrost in the northern hemisphere is expected to decline by around 20 per cent to 35 per cent. The depth of thawing is likely to increase by 30 per cent to a half of its current depth by 2080. Permafrost thawing is already having impacts. It is the likely cause behind the draining away and disappearance of Arctic lakes in Siberia during the past three decades over an area of 500,000 square km.

The costs of relocating subsiding towns and villages could be high. The price tag for relocating a village like Kivalina in Alaska has been estimated to be $54 million.

Marine Resources

Changes in river flows, ice regimes and the mobilization of sediments as a result of permafrost thawing are likely to have impacts on freshwater, estuary-living and marine biodiversity upon which local and indigenous people depend.

Lake trout, a cold water fish, is likely to be affected as will be the spawning grounds of fish and bottom living life forms as a result of increased sediments.

Important northern fish species, like broad whitefish, Arctic char, Arctic grayling and Arctic cisco are likely to decline as a result of changes in habitats and predatory species, perhaps carrying new diseases, moving into the warming Arctic waters.

Thinning and reduced coverage of sea ice is likely to have important knock on effects. Crustaceans, adapted for life at the sea ice edge, are an important food for seals and polar cod. Narwhal also depend on sea-ice organisms.

“Early melting of sea ice may lead to an increasing mismatch in the timing of these sea-ice organisms and secondary production that severely affects populations of the sea mammals,” says the IPCC report. However more open water and other climate-related factors are likely to benefit fish stocks like cod, herring, walleye and Pollock.


Ten per cent and possibly as much as 50 per cent of the Arctic tundra could be replaced by forests by 2100. The narrow, remaining coastal tundra strips in Russia’s European Arctic are likely to disappear.

Meanwhile climate change is likely to favour pests, parasites and diseases such as musk ox lung worm and nematodes in reindeer. Forest fires and tree-killing insects such as spruce bark beetle are likely to increase.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by United Nations Environment Programme.

Half of Barents ice is gone
May 8, 2007

A new report on the state of the Barents Sea is setting off new alarms within Norway’s government and the institute that tracks developments in the Arctic

The report, compiled by a management forum for the Arctic led by the Norwegian Polar Institute, shows that half of the summer ice in the Barents has disappeared over the past 10 years.

That in turn has reduced stocks of both fish and birds in the area, as temperatures have risen by a full degree during the same period.

"The reduction of the ice in the sea is dramatic," Bjørn Fossli Johansen of the Norwegian Polar Institute told Aftenposten.no. "The ecosystem in the Barents is guided to a large degree by the climate. This will have consequences for the entire ecosystem."

Scary signals
Norway's environmental minister Helen Bjørnøy, whose governmental department wanted to create the management plan for the Barents, expressed
deep concern over the report.

"We had been afraid of this, because we'd had signals through other reports that this was the situation," Bjørnøy told Aftenposten.no. "But all reports that document the seriousness of the situation are always a wakeup call."

Bjørnøy said the next step will be to create a similar report for the Norwegian Sea, and eventually for the entire Norwegian coastal area.

Polar bears with PCBs

Warmer waters have already signaled the retreat of some fish, including cod. Stocks of seabirds have also declined, with counts showing some breeding grounds reduced by as much as 20 percent during the past five years.

The report notes, however, that it's difficult to determine whether the reductions are entirely pegged to warmer seas, since overfishing and natural reproductive cycles could play a role.

The report also reveals worrisome levels of pollutants in the Barents that could be poisoning polar bears. Studies of polar bear fat have shown PCBs that could influence hormone levels, damage their immune systems and reduce reproductive abilities.

Bjørnøy was reluctant to say what if any concrete measures might be taken in response to the report. "We need to look at this in its entirety, and measures are being evaluated constantly," she said. "This is a theme that's high on our agenda."

Aftenposten’s reporter
Stine Barstad

Aftenposten English Web Desk
Nina Berglund


State's case against federal protection slammed by green groups.

A proposal to list polar bears as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act has Alaska politicians seeing green, as in the color of money that could be lost if a bear recovery plan hinders the state's resource development

Gov. Sarah Palin and a majority of legislators strongly oppose the listing, and say the acknowledged intent behind it -- curbing greenhouse gas emissions nationally -- should be debated in another forum, not a law aimed at protecting animals.

"I'm not comfortable with Alaska being used as a pawn in that game," said state Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, a leading opponent.

But the rules of the listing game call for a decision to be based on science, and the official Palin administration response says polar bears are thriving, that global warming science is inconclusive and that bears are not threatened by human activity -- a claim conservation groups have labeled "ridiculous."

"No one who purports to have even a moderate understanding of the climate literature could possibly fail to be aware of this research, and therefore I must conclude that it is a deliberate attempt to mislead," said Kassie Siegel, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, and the author of the original 154-page petition laying out the original case for listing polar bears.

Polar bears are classified as marine mammals because they spend most of their lives on sea ice, using it to hunt seals, breed and travel. The proposed listing is based to a large extent on the threat to sea ice.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado last September reported minimum summer sea ice for 2006 at 2.2 million square miles. Since satellite monitoring began in 1979, the summer sea ice minimum has declined 8.59 percent per decade, a rate that will make the Arctic Ocean ice free by 2060, according to NSIDC research scientist Julienne Stroeve.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in December determined that listing polar bears as threatened -- in danger of extinction in a significant portion of its range -- was warranted, pending further review and public testimony. Palin, elected in November, claims the agency did not use the best scientific and commercial information available.


The official state testimony claims sea ice is melting, but the Fish and Wildlife Service picked out the most extreme climate models to predict future effects. State officials say scientists disagree over humans' role in warming, a more comprehensive evaluation is needed and polar bears can adapt to less ice.

"The application for this listing is based on the unfounded, unproven scientific hypotheses that climate change is caused by human activity, in the form of increased release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," said House Speaker John Harris, a Valdez Republican.

That's a view in contrast to world climate experts who made up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They reported in February that global warming "very likely" is caused by human use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

Environmental groups say that unless countermeasures are taken, warming will melt the prime habitat of polar bears. Even if sea ice does not disappear, they say, warming could push its edge well beyond the continental shelf, creating a watery barrier or hazard for polar bears trying to reach sea ice or land.

Sea ice loss so far has not meant fewer polar bears, Johnson said. According to testimony submitted by Palin administration officials, even a 30 percent decline in the total population of polar bears within 35 to 50 years, as predicted by the polar bear group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the world's largest conservation network, is not enough to warrant a listing. Such a drop "does not result in a population that is threatened with extinction," they contend.

Polar bears have survived two historic periods of warming and likely can do it again, Johnson said. He's not so sure, he said, that Alaska could survive the polar bear being listed.


Alaska's economy is fueled by petroleum and elected officials fear that a polar bear recovery plan, plus the third-party lawsuits it would spawn, could gum up Arctic resource development and the next hoped-for boom, a pipeline to carry 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to customers in the Lower 48 states.

Roughly 85 percent of Alaska's general fund money comes from royalties and taxes on the oil industry, but the trans-Alaska pipeline has for years been running less than half full as reserves dwindle down. It has been political suicide for a politician to suggest instituting an income tax or tapping the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund, a $38 billion bank account that provides residents with an annual check. So the Legislature and the governor are pushing for a natural gas pipeline that will provide continued pain-free income, not to mention jobs.

"It is important that we prevent listing the polar bear as threatened, not only because the designation is not clearly supported by science, but because it will be used as leverage to stop development projects across the country, including our own natural gas pipeline," said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks.

Conservation groups call the state's position an attempt to manufacture uncertainty where none exists.

"Overall, the state of Alaska has completely lost any credibility it might have had on this issue by submitting this outrageous letter," Siegel said.

Deborah Williams, a former Interior Department special assistant for Alaska and now president of Alaska Conservation Solutions, a group aimed at pursuing solutions for climate change, called the state response misguided and regrettable.

"This is the state of Alaska," she said. "They ought to be speaking from the most complete set of scientific evidence ... and they ought to speak to it fairly."

The state's submission fails to counter or even address recent Alaska polar bear research showing fewer Beaufort Sea cubs surviving, smaller body weights and skull sizes, plus drownings, cannibalism and starvation, she said. That's in contrast to the Fish and Wildlife Service's own initial review published Jan. 9 in the Federal Register.

The agency is sifting through more than more than 400,000 electronic comments plus boxes of written comment lining a wall in an Anchorage office. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is required to render his decision by January.



Canadian controversy: How do polar bears fare?

Despite global warming, an ongoing study says polar bear populations are rising in the country's eastern Arctic region.

Polar bears are the poster animals of global warming. The image of a polar bear floating on an ice floe is one of the most dramatic visual statements in the fight against rising temperatures in the Arctic.

But global warming is not killing the polar bears of Canada's eastern Arctic, according to one ongoing study. Scheduled for release next year, it says the number of polar bears in the Davis Strait area of Canada's eastern Arctic – one of 19 polar bear populations worldwide – has grown to 2,100, up from 850 in the mid-1980s.

"There aren't just a few more bears. There are a ... lot more bears," biologist Mitchell Taylor told the Nunatsiaq News of Iqaluit in the Arctic territory of Nunavut. Earlier, in a long telephone conversation, Dr. Taylor explained his conviction that threats to polar bears from global warming are exaggerated and that their numbers are increasing. He has studied the animals for the Nunavut government for two decades.

Updates from the study by Taylor and his team have received significant media coverage in Canada, shaking the image of the polar bear as endangered.

"I don't think there is any question polar bears are threatened by global warming," responds Andrew Derocher of the World Conservation Union and a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He spoke by phone from Tuktoyaktuk in Canada's Northwest Territories 1,800 miles to the west of Davis Strait.

This past weekend, the midday temperature was just 6 degrees F. on the shore of the Arctic Ocean there. Daylight now lasts 18 hours, from 6 a.m. until just before midnight.

Perfect conditions for polar bear hunting. But Professor Derocher and a graduate student, Seth Cherry, are shooting the animals with tranquilizer darts and fitting them with radio transmitters. It's part of a long-term effort to figure out whether the huge carnivores – with the Kodiak bear, the largest on the planet – are being hurt by global warming.

The study by Taylor and his team has received widespread media coverage in Canada, shaking the image of the polar bear as endangered. There are even questions about the famous photograph of a polar bear adrift on what looks like an isolated and melting ice floe. Even scientists who firmly believe that the bears are under threat from climate change say the picture doesn't tell the whole truth

Polar bears often travel on ice floes, and they can swim "easily" in open water for 60 miles, according to Derocher. "Bears will often hang out on glacier ice or large pieces of multiyear ice. To me that picture looked a little fudged," he says. "But some colleagues of mine said it was legit."

But Derocher still maintains the polar bear is threatened, even if its numbers aren't down all across the circumpolar region where the giant bears live and hunt (). Of the 13 polar bear populations in Canada, at least two are in decline, Derocher says. The number of polar bears along the western edge of Hudson Bay, for example, has fallen by 22 percent over the last decade

"They are declining due to global warming and changes in when the ice freezes and melts in Hudson Bay," says Derocher. The port of Churchill on Hudson Bay has seen its shipping season lengthen because of disappearing ice.

Derocher and other scientists in his group are concerned that the retreating ice in the Arctic may pose a danger to future generations of polar bears because of habitat loss.

"The critical problem is, the sea ice is changing. We're looking ahead three generations, 30 to 50 years. To say that bear populations are growing in one area now is irrelevant," says Derocher.

That Davis Strait area where the bear population is thriving stretches from the southern part of Baffin Island, the fifth-largest island in the world, to the subarctic shores of Ungava Bay in Quebec Province and the coast of Northern Labrador. Just this one polar bear range covers an estimated 55,000 square miles, much of it open sea at certain times of year.

Animal rights activists can take some credit for the growth of polar bear numbers in the eastern Arctic. The battle to ban the hunting of harp seal pups has meant that the harp seal population has jumped from 2 million to 5 million. It also means sealers, especially those from Norway, are no longer hunting the polar bears, which they used to do when the seal hunt was larger.

The increase in the population is not a climate-change related issue," Derocher claims. It's the result of "conservation and an increase in the harp seal population," he says.


Canada hosts two-thirds of the world's estimated 25,000 polar bears. Males can grow to be 11 feet long (5 feet tall at the shoulder) and weigh 1,500 pounds. The largest females are 7 feet long and weigh up to 700 pounds. Polar bears evolved from their cousin, the giant brown bears of Alaska, about 200,000 years ago.

Fully grown male polar bears are too big to wear the radio collars that Derocher and his team carry in their helicopter. Instead, they look for young males and females. Derocher says it's harder and harder to find polar bears in the area. Even native hunters say it's increasingly difficult to locate the animals.

Inuit hunters in the eastern Arctic, however, have long disagreed with scientists about polar bear numbers. In small Inuit communities, hunters kill bears that wander too close to human settlements.

The huge arctic territory of Nunavut is 730,000 square miles, bigger than Alaska and almost three times the size of Texas. It has a population of just 26,000, almost all of them Inuit.

Inuit hunters make their own estimates of the polar bear population based on the number of animals they encounter on their travels. Taylor says scientists have ignored the anecdotal evidence of the Inuit, who say bear numbers were rising. Inuits also report more polar bears wandering into their towns and villages, where they are a threat to children.

"I'm pretty sure the numbers [of polar bears] are climbing," says Pitselak Pudlat, an Inuit hunter and manager of the Aiviq Hunters and Trappers Organization at Cape Dorset, Baffin Island. "During the winter there were polar bears coming into town." His community is north of the bear population studied by Taylor.

Derocher worries about Taylor's evidence. Taylor and his team work for the Inuit-dominated government. For cultural reasons, that government wants to preserve hunting and keep polar bears off the endangered species list, Derocher says.

"It's not sport hunting I'm worried about. They're after big males, and there are enough of them for breeding," says Derocher. "But some populations of polar bears do need better protection."  

Expedition studying decline of polar bears
May, 2007
Climate change is shrinking polar ice flows and that's taking a toll on polar bears.

Mild winters cause the ice to break up sooner and polar bears need the ice to hunt.

Explorer Jim McNeill went to Spitzbergen Island in the arctic to see how the shortened hunting season has affected the polar bears there.

He sent back the following report.

It's minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit and I'm heading a 200 mile expedition along the eastern coast of the island.

Our goal is to take a snapshot of the polar bear population, something we simply don't know very much about.

The team had been traveling for six days before coming across a female on land.

This time of year they really should be sea ice looking for food, but so much of that ice has melted.

Later, we see a mother and her cub. Most polar bears have two cubs each year.
A single cub could mean the other has died or could also be an indication of stress put on the mother due to a lack of food.

"We've found footprints having retraced our steps, of a polar bear following us. Several instances you get polar bears who really don't want to leave you alone. I guess after a week in the field you begin to smell quite tasty to them. We had a bear visit our tent last night, Max was awoken by a rustling, a bear has tried to knock on the door."

"The bear has had his nose right up against the tent here. We've got saliva there on the rope, just on the end there and quite a bit on the door over here. So he's come quite close."

So this really is the start of a campaign in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation to help try and save the polar bear.

"It's an extraordinary animal," says McNeil.
Last Updated: 5/4/2007 10:32:34 AM
Study: Beaufort Sea polar bears shift from ice to land for dens

Dan Joling
The Associated Press

May 2, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - More pregnant polar bears in Alaska are digging snow dens on land instead of sea ice, according to a federal study, and researchers say deteriorating sea ice due to climate warming is the likely reason.

From 1985 to 1994, 62 percent of the female polar bears studied dug dens in snow on sea ice. From 1998 to 2004, just 37 percent gave birth on sea ice. The rest instead dug snow dens on land, according to the study by three U.S. Geological Survey researchers.

Bears that continued to den on ice moved east in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's northern coast, away from ice that was thinner or unstable.

"We hypothesized that the sea ice changes may have reduced the availability or degraded the quality of offshore denning habits and altered the spatial distribution of denning," said wildlife biologist Anthony Fischbach, lead author of the study. "In recent years, Arctic pack ice has formed progressively later, melted earlier, and lost much of its older and thicker multiyear component."

The study makes no predictions of harm in the short term but suggests the Beaufort Sea bear population could be harmed if warming continues. Though bears are powerful swimmers, at some point they might face daunting distances of open water to reach denning habitat on shore.

"If Arctic sea ice continues to decline, we predict that the proportion of coastal denning will continue to increase until the autumn ice conditions prevent pregnant bears foraging offshore from reaching the coast in advance of denning," Fischbach said.

The study is under USGS review. Fischbach spoke about the study at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium, which continues through Wednesday. The co-authors are research wildlife biologists Steven Amstrup and David Douglas.

The study is likely to give ammunition to conservation groups calling for polar bears to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Three conservation groups sued the federal government in December 2005 seeking protections for polar bears under the law, blaming global warming for melting of sea ice, the primary habitat of the animals.

Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in December proposed listing polar bears as a "threatened" species. A public comment period on the proposal is open through April 9.

"Threatened" under the law means a species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. "Endangered" means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The listing is opposed by Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who told Kempthorne by letter that listing polar bears has the potential to damage the economy of Alaska and the nation without any benefit to polar bear numbers or their habitat, and that there are no human activities that can be regulated to effect change.

Conservationists disagree.

"The dire impacts from global warming on America's polar bears continue to mount: drownings, cannibalism, starvation, reduced cub survival, and now denning dislocation," said Deborah Williams, president of Alaska Conservation Solutions, an Anchorage-based group aimed at halting climate change. "Clearly, we need to demand that Congress and the administration protect polar bears, and our future, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and listing polar bears under the Endangered Species Act."

Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead author of the petition seeking to list polar bears as threatened, said the study underscores the scope of changes in the Arctic.

"It's such the canary in the coal mine," Siegel said. "If you want to know what's going to be happening in the rest of the world in 25 years, all you have to know is what's happening in the Arctic. Everything is changing, and not for the better."

Alaska polar bears spend most of their lives on sea ice, a marine habitat from which they hunt for their main prey, ringed seals, plus bearded seals and other animals.

Typically in November or December, after sea ice has reconnected to Alaska's coast, pregnant polar bears dig dens where snow has piled into drifts.

Sea ice pushed into shore becomes jumbled into pressure ridges that capture snow used for dens. However, with new ice, that can happen after bears want to make dens. On shore, terrestrial features catch the snow.

"They're generally using coastal bluffs and the river bluffs," said study co-author David Douglas said. "Along the big rivers, they have bluffs that catch snow."

The USGS estimates the Beaufort Sea polar bear population at 1,526. In the denning study, researchers determined that denning distribution had shifted based on satellite radio tracking of 89 bears in northern Alaska that led them to 124 dens between 1985 and 2004.

They believe pregnant bears shifted onto shore because the sea froze later, creating few pressure ridges. Also, more old ice that may have had pressure ridges had melted.

"The first-year ice would just be forming," Douglas said. "It's very flat, unless there's been an early winter that allows it to thicken enough and actually ridge up and then catch snow."

They did not speculate whether bears might be harmed in the short term.

"The big issue is, the long-term may be coming sooner that we thought it was," Fischbach said.

"If the foraging areas get so far off shore they (bears) cannot reach the coastal areas in advance of denning, and at the same time they'll be facing deterioration of the offshore denning habitat, then we would expect there would be reproductive consequences to the population," Fischbach said.

Researchers rejected two alternative hypotheses for the shift to land - hunting and the presence of more whale carcasses on beaches. Canada and the United States minimized hunting about 30 years ago but the denning shift occurred less than a decade ago. They also observed that just 5 percent of "pre-denning" females passed within 5 kilometers of a carcass site, compared to 30 percent of females that did not den that year.

Polar plight: Bears are endangered, should be protected
Tribune Editorial Article
Last Updated: 05/01/2007

It shouldn't be too difficult. The decision whether or not to list a plant or an animal as endangered should be based on science, as indeed it is in the Endangered Species Act. Trouble is, the act itself appears endangered by politicians for whom science is an obstacle.

    The act specifies the conditions under which the survival of an animal can be considered in jeopardy. Scientists decide whether those conditions exist for any threatened species.

    Take the polar bear, for example. Scientists know that the bears are in trouble, and they know it is because the sea ice on which they live is melting. Summer ice decreased 8.59 percent per decade between 1979 and 2006. At this rate, the Arctic Ocean sea ice will disappear by 2060, sooner if the rate escalates.

    Since polar bears depend on sea ice to hunt, breed and travel, the loss of it seems an obvious threat to their survival. The Center for Biological Diversity makes this point in its 154-page petition for listing polar bears as endangered. The National Fish and Wildlife Service concurs.

    But Alaska's new governor and a majority of its legislators oppose the listing, and it's easy to see why. They are concerned about the survival of the state's royalties and taxes coming from the oil industry - 85 percent of the state's general fund - and a proposal to build a gas pipeline to the lower 48 states. A polar bear recovery plan might hinder Alaska's oil and gas development, so Alaska officials claim the petition to list the bear as endangered is nothing more than a ploy by conservationists. They say the bear is being used as a poster animal by climatologists trying to drum up concern about climate change caused by burning of fossil fuels, which is probably true, as far as it goes.

    But the officials in Alaska also make the specious claim that human-caused global warming is unproven and unfounded, despite a global consensus among experts to the contrary. Not only is their argument insupportable, it is beside the point. No matter the cause, the bear's habitat is disappearing, endangering not only this top-of-the-food- chain predator, but the Arctic ecosystem that is its home.

    Politicizing the Endangered Species Act for the sake of the fossil fuels that are driving the climate change that threatens the polar bear - and the rest of us - isn't just unscientific. It is colossally myopic.

Global Warming To Provoke Polar Bear Attacks  - RUSSIA

Polar bears could start attacking humans more frequently due to global warming, a Russian scientist said Friday.
      Polar bears are carnivores that mainly live on seals, but can also feed on birds, shellfish, rodents and walruses - anything they can catch and kill. They are more likely to hunt humans than other bears and attacks could, for instance, happen at hunting camps or weather stations.
      "Sea ice [the area covered by ice in the Arctic] is decreasing, and this is the polar bear's main habitat... In a search for food, the bears could end up at coastal areas and approach villages on the sea shore," Oleg Anisimov, a professor at the State Hydrology Institute under Russia's hydrometeorology service, told a news conference.
      "This presents a considerable threat for people," he said.

      Anisimov said that according to different estimates, ice thickness in the Arctic has reduced by 10-40% in the last 30 years.
      Scientists and climatologists have been concerned that the decrease in sea ice caused by global warming could result in the extinction of the polar bear.
      Source: RIA Novosti

Russia proposes legal hunt to save polar bears

Steven Lee Myers, Vankarem, Russia
April 17, 2007
ON THE frozen edge of the Arctic expanse, where a changing climate has brought polar bears into greater contact with people, Russia has embraced a counter-intuitive method of preserving the creatures: hunting them, legally.

For the first time since the Soviet Union banned the practice more than five decades ago, the Government is preparing to allow hunters to kill the bears.

The animals are descending more often on coastal villages in this part of Russia's far north as a result of shrinking sea ice generally attributed to a warming planet.

"The normal life space for the polar bears is shrinking," said Anatoly Kochnev, a biologist in the region. "They come in search of food on the shore, and the main sources of food are where people live."

If hunters are allowed to take at least some bears legally, the reasoning goes, they might be less tempted to break the law for the bears' meat, an illicit delicacy, and for the thousands of dollars pelts can fetch.

"It is like the Russian saying," said Sergei Nomkymyn, a hunter in this village 130 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. "The wolves would not be hungry, and the sheep would remain intact."

Still, it remains to be seen whether the hunt can really reduce the poaching in a country with notorious corruption and lax enforcement of its environmental rules.

The twin threats facing Russia's polar bears — a warming climate and poaching — have put Vankarem and other villages in the country's remote north-east at the centre of efforts to ensure the creatures' survival.

The shrinking sea ice has taken the bears further from their natural sources of food. And although poaching has long been a problem in an area where bear hunting was once a way of life, the loss of natural habitat has made illegal hunting easier.

"When they are on the shore, they are in danger of being killed," said Mr Kochnev.

The Government estimates that as many as 100 bears are killed each year. NEW YORK TIMES

Climate push for UN agenda

THE British Government will make a concerted effort this week to push climate change up the agenda when it raises the matter for the first time in the UN Security Council.

The Security Council debate has come about despite opposition from the US, Russia and China, which made clear they did not see climate change as an appropriate subject for the Security Council.

The British position is getting an important boost from unexpected quarters: the US military. Eleven former generals are issuing a 63-page report calling on the Bush Administration to do more about climate change, warning of "significant national security challenges" to the US otherwise.

Writing under the name of the Centre for Naval Analyses, the generals say that global warming could act as a "threat multiplier" by hitting volatile and unstable countries the hardest.

They point to Darfur and Somalia as examples of conflicts stemming from struggles over scarce resources, which can only be exacerbated by rising temperatures.

Britain has pursued a similar argument in justifying the debate, although it refuses to give examples.

Proposal to list polar bears as endangered species generates heavy public comment

April 9, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: More than 500,000 people have commented on a proposal to list polar bears as "threatened" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Monday was the deadline for the public to weigh in on whether America's polar bears, found exclusively in Alaska, merit additional protection due to global warming.

Bruce Woods, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, said Monday that e-mail comments alone topped the half-million mark. He said it could be several days before the agency has a tally on the number of comments but that the agency also received enough surface mail and petitions to fill multiple boxes.

Woods could not say with certainty whether any other species has brought in as much public comment.

"To my knowledge, none ever has," he said.

Conservation groups claimed Monday that their side alone provided half a million comments.

"The sense of urgency about the fate of the polar bears is like nothing we've ever seen in an endangered species listing," said Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The plight of these animals is critical, and so is the sense that the changes affecting them are eventually going to affect us. That's why there is such tremendous public support for getting this listing done."

The comments collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, were not an opinion poll.

Woods said the agency sought public comment regarding the science behind the December decision, plus additional information on polar bear denning, sea ice change and potential threats to the animals.

In the next eight months, he said, the agency will review the collected comments and consider new studies that could help decision-makers.

"We'll continue to work with GS (U.S. Geological Survey) and our international partners to continue to gather the best available data," Woods said.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in December proposed listing polar bears as threatened, defined in law as likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The more drastic listing under the law is "endangered" — in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Kempthorne's decision was forced by a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity of Joshua Tree, California, which said polar bears could become extinct by the end of the century because their sea ice habitat is melting away due to global warming.

Polar bears are considered marine mammals because they spend most of their lives on sea ice. They use it as a platform to hunt their main prey, ringed seals, plus other ice seals. In Alaska, females use sea ice to den or to reach denning areas on land.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required by law to render its listing decision by next January.

Conservationists hope — and Alaska business interests fear — that designating polar bears as threatened due to global warming will carry a huge economic cost, forcing federal agencies around the country to consider the affect on polar bears before granting permits that would increase greenhouse gas emissions.

"The listing likely will force anyone in America whose business requires the emission of greenhouse gases to go through an additional layer of consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service, creating delays and expenses," said Marilyn Crockett, deputy director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, in testimony last month.

If polar bears are listed, agency officials will form a team to formulate a recovery plan.

"If we were going to go forward and propose critical habitat, economic impact would be part of that formula," Woods said.

Sea ice off the coast of Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic last winter continued its downward trend. The University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center reported last week that Arctic sea ice this winter just missed setting the record for fewest square miles (kilometers) covered since monitoring by satellite began in 1979. In recent years, winter sea ice has fallen by at least 600,000 square miles (1,554,000 square kilometers), double the size of Texas.

Critics of additional protections for polar bears say a listing would be the first for a species that is healthy in numbers and distribution.

Obtaining an accurate count of polar bears has been a challenge due to the harsh conditions and remoteness of their habitat. A U.S. Geological Survey report released in November indicated that the Beaufort Sea polar bear population has experienced a significant drop in cub survival. The study also determined that adult males weighed less and had smaller skulls than those captured and measured two decades ago

Canada in Brief

Nunavut denies polar bears endangered


Iqaluit -- The government of Nunavut has added its voice to those opposing a U.S. plan to list polar bears as a threatened species.

Environment Minister Patterk Netser suggested the bears are being used as a "political tool" for environmental groups trying to force a change in U.S. climate-change policy.

He said that although climate change has led to melting of sea ice since 1979, there is no proof the world's polar bear populations are threatened.

He said polar bears in Nunavut are abundant and appear to be able to withstand current hunting levels.

A spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on Nunavut's stand. CP

Nunavut against plan to list polar bears as endangered

IQALUIT, Nunavut (CP) - The latest salvo in what could become a long and bitter fight over listing polar bears as a threatened species has been fired by the government of Nunavut.

Nunavut has made its opposition to such a move official by submitting a response to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Late last year, the U.S. government said it would consider listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It justified the review by suggesting climate change is slowly melting the Arctic sea ice, robbing the bears of their habitat. Some studies have suggested that summer sea ice could be gone by the middle of this century.

Nunavut's submission acknowledges that the climate has warmed and the sea ice has diminished since about 1979. But the territory also says neither science nor observation by the Inuit has provided evidence to support listing all of the world's populations of polar bears as threatened.

"Nunavut has a very effective polar bear management system," Environment Minister Patterk Netser said in a release Thursday. "We are managing our polar bear populations on a sustainable basis, in a way that provides economic benefits to Nunavummiut (residents of the territory)."

Most polar bear populations in Nunavut are abundant and appear to be able to withstand current hunting levels, said Netser, who suggested the U.S. move has more to do with politics than concern for the bears.

"Polar bears have become a political tool for environmental groups trying to force a change in U.S. climate change policy," he said. "We oppose the listing of polar bears because it is currently unwarranted, highly speculative and will hurt Inuit and our economy."

But the issue has nothing to do with current numbers, said a polar bear expert.

"People are trying to muddy the waters," said Andy Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta.

"Nobody in the polar bear world has ever objected to the notion that some populations are large. It's the longer-term context for the species that's really the main issue of the threatened status."

The numbers now are fine, but may not be in the future, said Derocher.

The concern is that in the next 45 years, which is about three generations, the loss of sea ice will cripple the bear population and diminish it to that of an endangered species.

"If the projection models . . . come to fruition, it's very clear that polar bears have a very high likelihood of slipping from a threatened status into an endangered status in many parts of the Arctic."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has received more than 500,000 comments so far on the matter, said Scott Schliebe, a spokesman in Anchorage, Alaska.

The service will not reply to anyone at this point, he said, although each comment will need to be evaluated and informally responded to during the public comment process.

With more than a half-million submissions, the Fish and Wildlife Service has its work cut out for it, and there are looming deadlines.

"Our ultimate deadline is January of 2008 and it's a statutory requirement for the agency to make a final decision," said Schliebe. "Obviously we've got some other internal deadlines that precede that."

A complete review of the comments and draft legislation will likely be released this fall. Many of the submissions so far have been electronically generated as a result of environment websites and those predictably are supporting the government initiative, said Schliebe.





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