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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.”
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.
“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.
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Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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- California Emerged From Drought and Is Still Catching Fire - The ... ›
A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?