Investigative reporter Audrey Hudson in today's edition of Human Events:
Polar bears drowning in an Alaskan sea because the ice packs are melting—it’s the iconic image of the global warming debate.In a January 5, 2008 New York Times op-ed, Sarah Palin, then governor of Alaska, explained that her state's wildlife scientists had investigated this issue thoroughly and reached conclusions that were the polar opposite of those expressed in the now disputed paper by Monnett and Gleason:
But the validity of the science behind the image—presented as an ignoble testament to our environment in peril by Al Gore in his film An Inconvenient Truth—is now part of a federal investigation that has the environmental community on edge.
Special agents from the Interior Department’s inspector general's office are questioning the two government scientists about the paper they wrote on drowned polar bears, suggesting mistakes were made in the math and as to how the bears actually died, and the department is eyeing another study currently underway on bear populations.
Biologist Charles Monnett, the lead scientist on the paper, was placed on administrative leave July 18. Fellow biologist Jeffrey Gleason, who also contributed to the study, is being questioned, but has not been suspended.
The disputed paper was published by the journal Polar Biology in 2006, and suggests that the “drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open-water periods continues.”
It galvanized the environmental movement that led to the bear’s controversial listing in 2008 as threatened, and it is now protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, has argued that global warming and the reduction of polar ice severely threatens the bears’ habitat and their existence. In fact, there is insufficient evidence that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct within the foreseeable future — the trigger for protection under the Endangered Species Act. And there is no evidence that polar bears are being mismanaged through existing international agreements and the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.It appears that Gov. Palin, who knows a thing or two about bears, is being vindicated yet again.
The state takes very seriously its job of protecting polar bears and their habitat and is well aware of the problems caused by climate change. But we know our efforts will take more than protecting what we have — we must also learn what we don’t know. That’s why state biologists are studying the health of polar bear populations and their habitat.
As a result of these efforts, polar bears are more numerous now than they were 40 years ago. The polar bear population in the southern Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s North Slope has been relatively stable for 20 years, according to a federal analysis.
We’re not against protecting plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. Alaska has supported listings of other species, like the Aleutian Canada goose. The law worked as it should — under its protection the population of the geese rebounded so much that they were taken off the list of endangered and threatened species in 2001.
Listing the goose — then taking it off — was based on science. The possible listing of a healthy species like the polar bear would be based on uncertain modeling of possible effects. This is simply not justified.