As reports inundate us with melting Arctic ice, a new kind of conservation movement is arising. A movement that wields considerably larger teeth than the panda bears and baby seals of the past – but unfortunately only through its new icon.
The fluffy white polar bear, once made famous by Coca Cola, has once again surged in popularity. Pressure is mounting on U.S. and Canadian governments to enlist the species as endangered and grant them exclusive protection.
I, like Eve Savory, wonder, “Do polar bears deserve special protection?”
Significant progress has already been made in protecting polar bears. In 1973 the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed by all the five nations with wild polar bear populations.
Even without much domestic protection, Canadian populations have been relatively stable. Since 1991, polar bears have consistently been listed as “special concern” by COSEWIC, two steps away from being endangered, but only one from “not at risk”.
Of course, current concerns generate from the threat of climate change, but since when were polar bears the only animals threatened by this? More to the point, how does endangered species legislation protect a single (or any) species from climate change?
The new efforts to save the polar bear have all the potential of a tragicomedy. Conservationists try to persuade a reluctant (and equally vain) government to save the endearing polar bear through hollow laws. Meanwhile the entire arctic ecosystem undergoes an extreme makeover and starving polar bears go extinct trying to invade northern hamlets.
Then there is the US government struggling to consolidate the polar bear issue while simultaneously making plans to drill for oil in Alaska.
Don’t get me wrong, climate change is a serious threat to polar bears, but it is beyond the power of COSEWIC and the US Endangered Species Act to control.