Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Polar Bears in Peril From Climate Change and Hunting

Climate
Polar Bears in Peril From Climate Change and Hunting

New data pointing to a dramatic rise in polar bear hunting surfaced this week as the biennial meeting of the international Polar Bear Agreement kicked off in Moscow, Russia. Clearly, climate change isn't the only challenge facing Polar Bears. Hunting of Canadian polar bears is rising at alarming rates—in excess of 10 percent over previous years, according to the Center for Biological Diversity

“Global sentiment on this issue seems clear, as most every country has banned the trade and commercial export of polar bear parts,” said Elly Pepper, policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Yet Canada continues to allow substantial harvest and trade. Their populations are perhaps key to the species climate change survival, making the country’s outlier stance all the more vexing.” 

The heat-stressed polar bears in Hudson Bay, Canada dig holes in the dirt, trying to stay cool by lying on the permafrost below. Photo credit: Larry Schweiger / National Wildlife Federation

 A forum declaration was signed yesterday by the five countries in the polar bear's range (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S.) ensuring conservation efforts, but scientific experts at the forum warned of the immediate impacts of sea-ice loss on the species' survival, including loss of food sources. The parties agreed on the importance of addressing climate change and reducing additional stressors, like over-harvest, poaching and illegal trade as well as improving reporting and monitoring of legal trade. However, specific measures to implement the declaration remain unclear, reports the Center for Biological Diversity. 

“Polar bears already face an enormous threat from climate change, and we absolutely must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to save the species,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Adding overhunting to an already deadly situation is speeding up the polar bear’s extinction." 

Despite the climate change challenges the species face, Canada has tripled its hunting quota and is proposing more quota increases. According to NRDC, 740 polar bears were shot by hunters in Canada in 2012—almost 80 more than the average over the previous five years. Scientists continue to predict that two-thirds of polar bears will be lost by 2050.

The bears experiencing sea-ice loss in Hudson Bay, Canada, live toward the southern edge of the polar bear's range and serve as a warning for polar bears further north, if climate change is not considered in policy. Photo credit: Larry Schweiger / National Wildlife Federation

“Polar bears need protection from skin sellers and marketers,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife at Humane Society International. “We cannot stand by while polar bears are sold off to the highest bidder.”

Prices for polar bear hides have skyrocketed. They have quadrupled since 2007 to $22,000 USD for a single hide—doubling in the last year alone, according to the NRDC. Demand for polar bear skins is also growing—particularly in China where skins sell for up to $80,000 USD each.

“Canada’s own scientists are raising alarm about over-harvest not only in the past year but in the past three to five years," Telecky continued. "Canada and the other parties to the Polar Bear Agreement urgently need to address this problem.”

While the forum's conservation declaration will help with managing polar bear habitat and with direct threats to the bears, these implementations can only go so far, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). 

“The Arctic States' response goes some way toward guaranteeing a future for these magnificent animals,” said WWF International Director General, Jim Leape. “I urge them to redouble their efforts to ensure we meet the challenges of the next forty years—by implementing the circumpolar action plan for the bears and taking action on climate change.”

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the declaration outlines these key actions:

  • Completing the development of a Circumpolar Action Plan on polar bears by 2015
  • Identifying and conserving sufficient polar bear habitat
  • Fully implementing polar bear monitoring programs and updating the range-wide status and population trends of polar bears
  • An updated global IUCN Red List assessment of the species 

“We welcome all the commitments made today,” said Geoff York of WWF. “But we will also be watching to see that they are backed by action."

If policy is not strictly enforced, the polar bear faces total extinction—especially if the world fails to act on climate change. 

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

Radiation-contaminated water tanks and damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Feb. 25, 2016 in Okuma, Japan. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Japan will release radioactive wastewater from the failed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, the government announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, aka the doomsday glacier, is seen here in 2014. NASA / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Scientists have maneuvered an underwater robot beneath Antarctica's "doomsday glacier" for the first time, and the resulting data is not reassuring.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Journalists film a protest by the environmental organization BUND at the Datteln coal-fired power plant in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany on April 23, 2020. Bernd Thissen / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Airborne microplastics are turning up in remote regions of the world, including the remote Altai mountains in Siberia. Kirill Kukhmar / TASS / Getty Images

Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.

Read More Show Less
A laborer works at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province, China on Oct. 7, 2010. Jie Zhao / Corbis via Getty Images

By Michel Penke

More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.

Read More Show Less