Face to Face with a Polar Bear

Aug 8, 2008 1:23pm

The Wildlife Conservation Society reports it had to pull five scientists from their camp on the northern coast of Alaska "because of a new and unusual threat: a polar bear stuck on land due to climate change."  The WCS says, "Polar bears would normally be out on sea ice this time of year, but with recent warming the ice is miles from shore and bears are becoming increasingly trapped on land well away from their usual seal prey." The scientists were surveying the shorebirds that feed along the Beaufort Sea in summer before heading south.  They were near Teshekpuk Lake, about halfway between Barrow, Alaska (the northernmost town in the U.S.) and Prudhoe Bay (the northern end of the Alaska Pipeline).  They say the coast (picture) has been eroded by the lack of ice.

You’ll recall that in May, the Interior Department listed the polar bears as a threatened species, principally because of the melting ice. Secretary Dirk Kempthorne protested at the time that the Endangered Species Act was being used improperly by environmental groups as a legal weapon against climate warming: "While the legal standards under the ESA compel me to list the polar bear as threatened, I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting.  Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective." The WCS scientists have now retreated by bush plane to the relative safety of Prudhoe Bay, where it won’t be them alone against a hungry bear. A quote from Dr. Steve Zack, one of the team: “It is ironic that our efforts to understand how climate change is affecting wildlife were disrupted by the top Arctic predator displaced by climate.” (Photos: Polar Bear by Mark Maftei; Joe Leibezeit on Beaufort Sea coast by Kevin Pietrak.  Both from Wildlife Conservation Society.)

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