Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Review: "Ice Bear" by Michael Engelhard

Of all the bears of the world, polar bears are probably the most fascinating. Unlike grizzlies and black bears, the isolation of the white bear to the polar region means we mostly have to live vicariously through the work of Arctic scientists willing to venture forth into the bear's icy world in order to learn much about them. This gives the polar bear an almost otherworldly sense of mystery.

Few truly great books have been written about polar bears, certainly not as many as have been written about grizzly bears. Richard Ellis's "On Thin Ice", Nikita Ovsyanikov's "Polar Bears: Living With the White Bear", and Ian Stirling's "Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species" come immediately to mind. Now Michael Engelhard's "Ice Bear" joins the ranks as one of the best works devoted to these elusive animals.

Unlike most authors, Engelhard focuses not on the bear's biology but on its cultural history; from myths and legends to religious beliefs and even sexuality; from hunting tales to Arctic expeditions; from cuddly "celebrities" like Knut to the perils and pitfalls of training polar bears for the circus, while presenting wonderful photographs, paintings, and Native arts and crafts along the way. In the end a clear picture is presented of the polar bear as one of the most powerful and resilient animals in the world, not as the anthropomorphized cuddly teddy of human imagination or as the relentless man-eater of Arctic lore and legend.

This was easily one of the best books I've read on the subject of polar bears with information that kept me turning pages. Highly recommended for any bear lover's collection!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What a Trump Presidency Could Mean For Grizzlies

It's impossible to study bears and advocate for or against them without getting sucked into politics. For decades, the subjects of bear management and protection have been fought - sometimes valiantly, sometimes violently - in wildlife agencies, in lecture halls, classrooms, and the field; from Montana all the way to Washington, D.C. and that will probably never change. The issue has always been highly politicized and always will be. The line has been consistently drawn between those who want to protect and preserve the great bears and those who see no need for them and consider them a useless liability.

As hard as I try to stay out of politics and remain unbiased, a bias is ultimately inevitable, and right now a political battle is being waged to determine the future of the Yellowstone grizzly bear and whether or not they will retain protections under the Endangered Species Act. Public comments on this matter have been closed and there are expectations that a final decision will be made sometime this month. 

So what does it say for the outcome of this decision and the final fate of these bears that Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States and the Republican Party (consistently the most anti-environmental and with the most representatives fighting on the side of the anti-bear campaign), is firmly in control?

Well, let's take a look at some of Trump's environmental policies:

1.) He does not believe in man-made climate change. To be fair, I myself am somewhat on the fence about whether climate change is man made or a natural cycle. Either way, I've spent enough time in the far north to visibly see the effects with each passing year and I know full well the devastating impact it's had on the Yellowstone grizzly population and the polar bears on the Arctic tundra. Regardless of the cause, something is happening and there are ways these animals could be preserved and protected from it. But first we would have to stop squabbling about it and acknowledge that something is happening and that's not the nature of politics.

2.) Myron Ebell, one of the country's best-known climate change skeptics, has been chosen by Trump to lead his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that Trump has even considered disbanding altogether. 

3.) Open protected lands (i.e.: National Parks and forests) to privatization, meaning control by the states with no federal protections. The Republican Party argues that this 200 million acres of currently-protected land should be "used to the best economic potential for the nation". This means logging, gas and oil exploration, and development. Sure those trees, lakes, and mountains are pretty but wouldn't you rather have a shopping mall and a McDonald's?

4.) The GOP is arguing that the Endangered Species Act should be significantly curtailed so that species cannot be listed as endangered in one location if they exist in healthy numbers in another location. The platform states the act has "stunted economic development, halted the construction of projects and burdened landowners." Why should Yellowstone grizzlies be protected when there are plenty of grizzlies in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia? Good enough, right?

5.) Among Trump's potential candidates for the Department of the Interior are Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, who pushed to delist the gray wolf and has been pushing the campaign to delist the grizzlies and open them up to trophy hunting, and - according to some sources - possibly Sarah Palin, a trophy hunter who has waged all-out war on Alaska's predators.

As grim as these prospects are, we have to acknowledge the future is uncertain and things could go in either direction, but for now a very, very dark cloud is looming on the horizon in the battle to save the Yellowstone grizzlies.