Action to protect polar bears urged

Feb. 5, 2013 at 3:46 PM
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EDMONTON, Alberta, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- An international team of scientists is urging governments to plan for rapid Arctic ecosystem changes to head off a climate change catastrophe for polar bears.

A University of Alberta polar bear researcher along with eleven international co-authors, writing in the journal Conservation Letters, said governments with polar bear populations must acknowledge that just one unexpected jump in Arctic warming trends could send some polar bear populations into a dangerous decline.

"It's a fact that early sea ice break-up and late ice freeze-up and the overall reduction in ice pack are taking their toll," Alberta researchers Andrew Derocher said. "We want governments to be ready with conservation and management plans for polar bears when a worst case climate change scenario happens."

Studies by Derocher and his colleagues suggest that just one very bad ice year could leave hundreds of Hudson Bay polar bears stranded on land for an extended period, "an event could erase half of a population in a single year," he said in a university release.

While the researchers say they're not attempting to tell governments what to do, they're urging policy makers and wildlife managers to start planning for both the predicted escalation of Arctic warming and for an off-the-charts "worst case" scenario.

"You're going to make better decisions if you have time to think about it in advance: it's a no-brainer," Derocher said.

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