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.