Polar Bear’s Conservation Management Plan Blames Climate Change as Primary Threat
One of the iconic images of climate change is the iceless Arctic Ocean, the polar bear’s home melting away. This picture illustrates the vital connection polar bears have to their marine environment and the importance of having stable sea ice. During the late spring and summer months when the ocean freezes over, polar bears use sea ice to travel, hunt their primary prey, and rear their young. During the late summer and early fall when the sea ice melts away, polar bears are unable to hunt, using the stored up fat from their summer feast as energy until the sea ice returns come spring.
However, climate change is shifting this cycle. The days in summers and falls are increasing with no enough time for sufficient sea ice to form in the spring. As such, polar bears need to go without their primary prey. As a result, polar bears to remain travelling along the coast and wander into local villages to scour for food, leading to conflicts between the humans and bears.
The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice in October and November 2016 was the lowest on record for those months since record-keeping began in 1979. The current global polar bear population is estimated to be 26,000. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rates throughout the 21st century, polar bears will likely disappear from much of their present-day range.
While the international community grapples with that long-term challenge, U.S. government agencies, Native communities, private organizations, scientists and subsistence hunters have collaborated on a plan for improving the polar bear’s immediate chances of surviving in the wild. The Conservation Management Plan for the polar bear was finalized and released Monday of this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It outlines the actions that will help preserve the Arctic wild in the near-term, while also acknowledging the primary threat to the bear will entail longer-term actions.
“This plan outlines the necessary actions and concrete commitments by the Service and our state, tribal, federal and international partners to protect polar bears in the near term,” said Greg Siekaniec, The Service’s Alaska Regional Director. “But make no mistake; without decisive action to address Arctic warming, the long-term fate of this species is uncertain.”
Developed by a diverse team of experts and partners, the plan calls for reducing human-bear conflicts by managing subsistence harvest, protecting denning habitat, and minimizing the risk of contamination from oil spill. It also emphasized the need for increased monitoring and research to determine whether the actions in the plan are being effective or need to be modified. Most of the actions stated are already underway by Alaskan Native communities, nonprofit groups, and industry representatives.
Overall, the plan has gained much support but there have also been lingering disappointment.
State Wildlife Conservation Director, Bruce Dale, agrees with many aspects of the plan, including recognition that the primary threat to polar bears is the loss of sea ice habitat brought on by climate change. However, he argues that the State of Alaska is still broadly opposed to the bears’ 2008 worldwide listing as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, which can hinder the effectiveness of conservation methods.
Furthermore, despite the plan stating that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced and will require global action, it does not require any direct action to occur in the near future. As such Shaye Wolf, from the Center for Biological Diversity, calls the plan toothless, acknowledging the primary problem, yet failing to put the solution in the recovery strategy.
While the Conservation Management Plan focuses on management actions for the two U.S. sub-populations of polar bears that live off the coast of Alaska, it contributes to efforts to conserve polar bears in the other four range states of Norway, Greenland, Canada and Russia.
New Study Has Campaigners Urging Europe to Expand Bee-harming Pesticide Ban
In 2013, the European Union (EU) adopted a partial ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. However, since then, more research has surfaced stressing the threat posed to bees by these pesticides. And with the newest report published by biologists at the University of Sussex and commissioned by Greenpeace, warned of widespread risks to agriculture and the environment, campaigners are urging the EU to expand the ban.
“New research strengthens arguments for the imposition of a moratorium” on the use of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, the analysis concluded. “It has become evident that they pose significant risks to many … organisms, not just bees.”
A global review from last November calculated that 1.4 billion jobs and ¾ of all crops depend on pollinators, especially bees. Approximately 20,000 species of bees are responsible for fertilizing more than 90% of the world’s 107 major crops.
And despite our growing global agricultural industry, the United Nations reported last year than 40% of all invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, are at risk for global extinction. Entire populations have been decimated in Europe and North America due to a mysterious phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder.”
In addition, this week, the rusty patched bumblebee once familiar to North America has been listed as an endangered species, becoming the first wild bee in the continental United States to gain such federal protection. Since the late 1990s, the species has plunged nearly 90% in abundance and survives with only a few small, scattered populations remain in 13 states.
This occurrence has been blamed on mites, a virus, or fungus, pesticides, or a combination of these factors.
“These essential insects are in serious trouble,” Greenpeace wrote in a foreword to the report published on Thursday, which its authors said involved analysing hundreds of scientific studies published since 2013.
But in this study, co-author Dave Goulson, pointed out that “the case that neonicotinoids are contributing to wild bee declines and exacerbating honeybee health issues is stronger than it was when the partial EU ban as adopted.”
He aso mentions that neonicotinoids appear to also be linked to declines of butterflies, birds, and aquatic insects. “Given evidence for such widespread environmental harm it would seem prudent to extend the scope of the current European restriction.”
Neonicotinoids are lab-synthesized pesticides based on the chemical structure of nicotine. Introduced in the mid-1990s as a less harmful substitute to older pesticide types, they are widely used to treat flowering crops and designed to attack the nervous system of insect pests.
However, as mentioned earlier, many studies have blamed neonicotinoids for harming bee reproduction and foraging, diminishing sperm quality and scrambling memory and navigation functions. One study suggested that the pesticide may hold an addictive attraction for bees, similar to nicotine for humans.
An European Food Safety Authority neonicotinoid review is due to be finalized in the second half of this year as part of a reevaluation of the partial ban, which only currently excludes the pesticide’s use on barley and wheat as well as in gardens and public spaces.
After Declining Silently for a Decade, Ring-Tailed Lemur is Finally Given a Voice
Madagascar’s beloved ring-tailed lemurs have all but disappeared from many of the island nation’s forests. According to two worrying new studies, the species’ population has fallen to between 2,000 and 2,400 animals—a shocking 95 percent decrease since the year 2000.
To put that number in context, there are now fewer ring-tailed lemurs living in the wild than there are living in zoos around the world.
The researchers named rapid habitat loss, hunting, and the illegal pet trade as the factors driving their extinction, according to a paper published last month in the journal Primate Conservation and a second paper published this week in Folia Primatologica.
Many subpopulations now contain fewer than 30 individuals and in at least 15 sites they once called home, the lemurs have completely disappeared.
Marni LaFleur, lead author of the second paper and a co-director of the conservation organization Lemur Love, described the now-empty forests as “very sad, quiet, and dusty. There was a thick layer of crunchy leaf litter on the ground, and dust on top. Some trees were heavy with ripe and rotten fruits. Without birds or mammals to consume them, the untouched fruits just rot in and around the trees. Normal aspects of a forest, which as a biologist I have a fairly keen eye for—footprints, scat, bite marks, sleeping spots, calls—are absent.”
Some are so empty that even the hunters have abandoned them, adds La Fleur. “We also saw half a dozen makeshift meat-drying racks,” she stated. “These, too, were dusty and now unused. There is nothing left to hunt.”
There have already been previous studies that had documented aspects of the ring-tailed lemur’s decline, but the results of these new surveys still shocked the researchers and the conservation community.
“We certainly didn’t expect to find such a dramatic population decrease,” says another of the paper’s authors, Tara A. Clarke, also a co-director of Lemur Love. “As we were in the field and started visiting ring-tailed lemur sites or areas where they had been known to range historically and started combing the literature for the most recent estimates, we started to realize how severe the situation was for this species and we became extremely concerned.”
As such, the researchers state that the ring-tailed lemurs will be included in the next edition of the biennial list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, due to be out later this year.
Clark explains that because of the lack of attention and the researchers dedicated to studying the species on a regular basis, the full extent of the ring-tailed lemur’s decline went unnoticed. “The two most prolific researchers, Alison Jolly and Robert Sussman, have died and we are the only descendants with active research in Madagascar.”
Dr. Kim Reuter of Conservation International, one of the paper’s authors, stated that stopping the lemur’s decline will present numerous challenges. “At the moment, we’re seeing ongoing illegal extraction of lemurs from the wild in Madagascar for the pet trade and hunting. This issue is currently not being regulated, and is sometimes even done in the open. Even when lemurs are confiscated from illegal owners, there are just a handful of facilities in the country that can take individuals in for rehabilitation.”
The situation can change, but only, the researchers say, if conservation efforts are tied to social and economic development within Madagascar. LaFleur says a great example already starting to make a difference is an IUCN Initiative called Save Our Species (SOS) Lemurs, which “has had very good results in bringing together researchers and conservationists with local communities to build better futures for all parties— lemurs included.” Lemur Love, meanwhile, is actively seeking partnerships with zoos in order to increase their own conservation impact.