Commentary: Should we feed the bears?

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As a major winter snowstorm brings some much-needed moisture to the drought-parched Central Plains, maybe today is the perfect time to consider the plight of the polar bear.

Maybe you have spent the morning delivering hay in this blizzard to hungry cows, or chopping ice out of a frozen water tank. Just the type of weather polar bears like. Problem is polar bears haven’t seen enough cold and snow lately. And that’s becoming a problem for you, too.

You may have heard a little about the phenomenon called Global Warming. I’m not writing to drum up support for either side of that political hot potato. Rather, I’d like to point out that the demise of the polar bear may affect how you conduct business in the near future.

By all accounts, polar bear populations are in decline. Apparently there are some well-educated folks called polar bear ecologists who estimate the world’s population is somewhere between 20,000 to 25,000 bears. More alarmingly, many believe the bears could become extinct within the next 30 or 40 years.

The plight of polar bears is tied to the rapidly declining Arctic sea ice. During January, scientists reported the average coverage of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was 409,000 square miles below the 1979 to 2000 January average. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says that’s the sixth-lowest amount of ice in satellite records for January. Additionally, 2012 saw the lowest summer coverage of sea ice in the Arctic.

(It should be noted that data also suggest the level of sea ice in the Antarctic region is increasing. However, there are no polar bears in Antarctica so it is not part of this discussion.)

Polar bears are sea ice-dependent because they hunt blubber-rich seals from ice floes. The ice floes allow the bears to advance farther out into the sea where the seals are found. Because the sea ice forms later in the year than in the past, the bears are forced to stay on shore for longer periods of time, reducing their feeding season. All of which amounts to poor nutrition for the bears, and a host of predictable problems: declines in body condition, lower reproductive rates, lower survival rates and a declining population.

The decline of the polar bear is real and well-documented, although there continues to be much debate about whether man’s activities are the cause of the problem. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, more important to your livelihood is how society will respond to the plight of the polar bear.

Polar bears are very photogenic. They look like adorable creatures, though scientists don’t recommend you try to pet one. Because of their aesthetic nature and the harsh conditions in which they survive, polar bears have become the de facto poster-boy for Global Warming.

In fact, there is such concern about polar bears some folks are even suggesting we start feeding them with helicopters. A biologist and polar bear expert at the University of Alberta, Andrew Derocher, has published a paper that describes several emergency actions that will have to be taken to save polar bears. One of those actions is to airdrop food to the bears at a cost of $32,000 per day for the “most accessible” bears.

No one wants to see these bears or any other animal starve. But the more the bears suffer the more they will make headlines as casualties of Global Warming. That’s a concern for you because much of the cause for our changing climate has already been – wrongly – attributed to livestock production.

We’ve repeatedly debunked the 2006 report from the United Nations, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” that suggested livestock producers are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The actual number is closer to 3 percent, according to Frank Mitloehner, PhD, an animal scientist and air-quality specialist at the University of California-Davis Air Quality Center.

Still, the over-statement of livestock production’s carbon footprint will continue, and exaggerated claims from bloggers and environmental activists will make their way into the national discussion about Global Warming.

That’s why you should care about the plight of polar bears. Should we feed them? Those images of helicopters airlifting food to starving polar bears would surely make every news outlet in the country. And so will the images of polar bears left to starve.

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Dan Jackson    
Minnesota  |  February, 20, 2013 at 05:12 PM

Do you really think they will eat helicopters ? That doesn't sound very nutritional... Plus you would have to somehow get the helicopters to the bears...... Sounds like alot of effort if you don't even know they will eat them.....

Not Dan Jackson    
Minnasota Ya  |  February, 20, 2013 at 05:36 PM

What a Maroon

Sedalia,Mo  |  February, 21, 2013 at 09:03 AM

You need to do more research before doing an article. Researchers also report increased numbers of polar bears over the last 20 years.

North Central MT  |  February, 21, 2013 at 09:13 AM

Greg: Really is it that bad. Recent news reports do not support it. With quotes like: Let's start with what we know. Almost everybody agrees that there are between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears alive today. Here's another thing almost everyone agrees on: That number is a whole lot bigger than it was 40 years ago. and Mitch Taylor, who published almost 50 peer-reviewed papers during his 21 years as a polar-bear biologist and wildlife manager for the territorial government of Nunavut, prefers to avoid speculating too much about the unknown. "We don't know what the future holds, but we do know that many current populations are stable. And we have to manage for what we've got right now, not what we might have in the future." Still other Author Zac Unger “There are far more polar bears alive today than there were 40 years ago,” Unger told NPR in an interview about his new book, “Never Look a Polar Bear in The Eye.” “There are about 25,000 polar bears alive today worldwide. In 1973, there was a global hunting ban. So once hunting was dramatically reduced, the population exploded.” Don't let the environmental community fool agriculture into over reacting.

February, 21, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Unbelieveable!!!!! Anyone who is tuned in to the world in any way, has to listen to this bunk every day. The major news networks love to push any little study they can find (or make up) to push their agenda. Greg Henderson needs to wake up and smell the roses, I expect to be blamed by the idiots, but I don't need to open Drovers and read this bs. Maybe Greg needs to go write articles for different publications because I smell a rat.

Ohio  |  February, 21, 2013 at 02:00 PM

If we could coax them into the helicopters maybe we could feed politicians to the polar bears. That would certainly be a high-blubber diet for them. We could push a few treehuggers out of the helicopters too -- if the polar bears won't eat them they could always use 'em for toilet paper. Probably a lot of mopping up to do after you been feasting on nice soft greasy politicians!

Kansas  |  February, 22, 2013 at 08:29 AM

Marko's last comment about not letting 'the environmental community fool agriculture into over reacting' seems to ignore the real issues. First, the natural partners in life ought to be the environmental and agricultural communities. They have a few important things in common. Second, if he's trying to ignore or question global warming - whatever the cause - he's extremely short-sighted.

Kansas  |  February, 22, 2013 at 08:29 AM

Marko's last comment about not letting 'the environmental community fool agriculture into over reacting' seems to ignore the real issues. First, the natural partners in life ought to be the environmental and agricultural communities. They have a few important things in common. Second, if he's trying to ignore or question global warming - whatever the cause - he's extremely short-sighted.

Wisconsin  |  February, 22, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Not much common ground between agricultural and environmental communities Chuck. A world of difference really. Agriculturists feel responsible for feeding the world through private enterprise, relying upon sensible planning, fair play and hard work. Environmentalists feel determined to destroy agriculture along with every other accomplishment of modern humanity, relying upon hate, fear, obstruction, deception and plentiful trust funds and lucrative donations/hand-outs. Two entirely different approaches to life Chuck.

Dr. Don Gardner    
February, 23, 2013 at 10:18 AM

You have been listening to the Sierra Club other animal rights groups to much. Just read an article in an Outdoor magazine that contradicts the premise that polar bears are going extinct or that they are in serious decline. One was a polar bear reasearcher from Churchhill on the Hudsons Bay.

Greg Henderson    
Kansas  |  February, 23, 2013 at 12:38 PM

And ALL of you missed the point of the commentary - which is, that it doesn't matter if polar bears are going extinct or not. What matters to you is what the majority of society believes, and what new regulations/restrictions they might create that will hamper your ability to raise livestock.

February, 25, 2013 at 03:38 PM

Greg is right. It matter not what the truth is. What really matters is what the public is led to believe the truth is--truth or not--and how emotional they get about it. These are not matters of reason. They are matters about opinion and emotion. We need to be careful.

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