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Tuesday, January 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Polar bear expert warns of climate change

Steven Amstrup is chief scientist for Polar Bears International, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of polar bears and their habitat. (COURTESY / Courtesy photo)
Steven Amstrup is chief scientist for Polar Bears International, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of polar bears and their habitat. (COURTESY / Courtesy photo)

To a polar bear, climate change is not a hoax.

The chief scientist for Polar Bears International, who lives in north of Kettle Falls, Washington, will be in Spokane Monday to explain.

For centuries, polar bears honed the instincts to survive nearly year-round on sea ice. Unlike grizzly and black bears, polar bear males and non-breeding females do not hibernate in the winter. They are equipped to tough out some of the harshest weather on the planet as they hunt the pack ice edges and holes primarily for seals.

“What we’re seeing is the melting of the seasonal ice ecosystem during summer, forcing the bears ashore where they are food-deprived for prolonged periods,” said Steven Amstrup of the non-profit dedicated to the preservation of polar bears and their habitat.

On Monday, Amstrup will present a 7 p.m. program at Mountain Gear Headquarters to overview polar bear biology, explain climate change and link the impacts to polar bears and the rest of life on earth.

“This year we saw the latest return on record of bears to the sea ice,” he said, citing data from satellite imagery.

“Our goal is to save polar bears, but can’t do that without saving sea ice habitat. They’re inextricably linked.

“Since I started studying polar bears in 1980, climate change has turned bear conservation on its head. All the other threats to polar bears pale by comparison to global warming and the need for stopping greenhouse gas rise.

“For many years, polar bear research and conservation was about balancing harvest with what populations could sustain, just as deer and elk are managed. Polar bears are a renewable resource if there’s good management and habitat.”

Hunting may become an issue again as sea ice habitat continues to decline. “Hunting may be faced with quotas as the habitat is able to support fewer and fewer bears.”

The loss of sea ice magnifies other impacts, he said, including oil and gas development, human activities and oil spills.

“When these bears come in contact with human activity, we usually end up with dead bears.”

Amstrup, 67, earned degrees at the universities of Washington, Idaho and Alaska. He led polar bear ecology research in Alaska for 30 years with the U. S. Geological Survey before retiring in 2010.

He’s headed polar bear science groups, published peer-reviewed articles and, in 2007, he led a USGS research team’s production of nine reports that convinced the U.S. Interior secretary that polar bears should be declared a threatened species.

In the December 2010 issue of Nature, Amstrup and his coauthors showed the relationship between global temperature and sea ice.

Preserving polar bears requires a halt to man-caused temperature increase, the scientists said.

In 2012, Amstrup was honored with the Indianapolis Prize, billed as the world’s leading award for animal conservation.

He said that polar bears are merely the tip of the iceberg among the wildlife that will be impacted by climate change.

“If we act in time to save polar bears, we will benefit most of the rest of life on earth,” he said.

“I’ve devoted my life to this. We already know the answer to questions on what we need to do to save polar bears. Now its time to focus on conservation and getting people to change their ways.”

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