Polar bear mother and yearling cubs. (Credit: © hperry / Fotolia) Enlarge

Feb. 4, 2013 — A University of Alberta polar bear researcher and 11 international co-authors are urging governments to start planning for rapid Arctic ecosystem change to deal with a climate change catastrophe for the animals.

U of A professor Andrew Derocher co-wrote a policy perspective urging governments with polar bear populations to accept that just one unexpected jump in Arctic warming trends could send some polar bear populations into a precipitous decline.

"It's a fact that early sea ice breakup, late ice freeze-up and the overall reduction in ice pack are taking their toll," said Derocher. "We want governments to be ready with conservation and management plans for polar bears when a worst-case climate change scenario happens."

The effects of climate change on polar bears are clear from both observational and modelling studies in many areas where the bears are found. Earlier studies by Derocher and his colleagues show that one very bad ice year could leave hundreds of Hudson Bay polar bears stranded on land for an extended period. "Such an event could erase half of a population in a single year," Derocher noted.

"The management options for northern communities like Churchill would range from doing nothing, to feeding the bears, moving them somewhere else or euthanizing them," said Derocher.

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