Fox News is claiming that a new book on a town known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” shows that “the polar bears are doing just fine.” But extensive research shows that many polar bear populations are declining, and that the species is at risk of extinction due to rapid Arctic sea ice loss driven by climate change.
On the February 5 edition of Fox News' America Live, Trace Gallagher reported on a new book by firefighter Zac Unger that chronicles his experiences living in Churchill, Manitoba, a small town on the Hudson Bay that is known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Unger planned to write a book about how climate change is impacting polar bear populations in the Arctic, but instead he concluded that “polar bears were not in as bad a shape as the conventional wisdom had led me to believe.” Gallagher seized on this to suggest that despite being cast as a symbol of the impact of climate change, “the polar bears are doing just fine” and their populations are “exploding”:
In fact, the polar bears located in the region that Unger lived in are one of 8 subpopulations in decline, according to a comprehensive review conducted in 2009. The following graphic illustrates the 19 distinct subpopulations of polar bears, only one of which is thought to be increasing:
While polar bear populations have increased since the 1970s thanks to conservation efforts, climate change could threaten “the survival of polar bears as a species,” according to a 2004 assessment. And the U.S. Geological Survey projected in 2007 that changes in Arctic ice conditions could result in “loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century.”
And while Gallagher suggested that the prevalence of polar bears in the town of Churchill indicates that the population is “exploding,” it may actually be a result of climate change. Polar bears in the region return to shore each year to await the freezing of the Hudson Bay in early autumn. But experts say that Arctic warming has already shortened amount of time that the bears can hunt for food in the bay, increasing the risk that bears will wander into town in search of food.