A video released by the Guardian last week reveals that polar bears are becoming frequent visitors to the small Canadian town of Churchill, Manitoba, and it has residents and officials on edge.
As they increasingly make Churchill their home in lieu of Arctic sea ice, town officials are working to keep these animals at bay and return them to their natural habitat. To do so, they’re employing scare tactics intended to teach polar bears that humans are a threat — and to stay away. The Canadian government is under increased scrutiny for their lax federal protection of these bears.
The “Polar Bear Capital of The World” is accustomed to visitors. They have a Polar Bear Alert program and other protocols to facilitate their presence, but a record number of incidents in recent weeks has put the town on high alert. Increased bear presence is expected to rise as these marine mammals turn landward in search of food, according to the video.
Recently, the Canadian government has faced criticism for only listing these bears as a species of special concern — a classification that doesn’t carry much weight
for a species adversely affected by climate change. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned Canada’s decision to deny polar bears of “endangered” status. In response, the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation recommended an investigation of the listing just last week. The Commission now has 60 days to review the issue and determine whether polar bears warrant consideration of additional protection. Canada is home to 60-80 percent of the worldwide population of 22,000-25,000 polar bears.
Climate change and Arctic ice loss are fueling this species’ decline. They depend on Arctic sea ice to hunt for ringed and bearded seals, but because of earlier melting and later refreezing times, these carnivores now have to swim greater distances to find food. This deadly combination has led to a 15 percent loss in body weight and decreased reproduction, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Furthermore, a 2009 report by the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group found that out of nineteen global subpopulations across Canada, Denmark, Norway, Alaska, and Russia, eight are declining. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that two-thirds of polar bears are expected to be lost to climate change by 2050.
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