Russian officials aren’t very worried about how polar bears will survive in the face of man-made global warming.
“Representatives of other Arctic regions and the scientific community were more concerned about climatic change and its negative effect on polar bears, but these issues do not loom large with us,” Yegor Vereshchagin, the head wildlife conservation official in Chukotka, said at a meeting of Arctic nations in early February.
Russian officials declared “Polar Bears Adjust to Climate Change” in a press release, based on a presentation Vereshchagin gave at a recent summit that included officials and scientists from the U.S., Canada, Norway and Russia.
“Both scientific data and traditional knowledge prove that nothing threatens our bears,” Vereshchagin said at the meeting, according to remarks released by Russian officials on Tuesday.
“During spring counts of dens we often find female bears with three cubs, which proves that the population is in good shape and there is no danger of a decrease in the population,” Vereshchagin said.
For years, scientists have worried polar bears in the Chukchi Sea subpopulation, which encompasses the Chukotka Autonomous Area in Russia, were on the decline due to shrinking sea ice coverage and poaching.
Six years ago, Nikita Ovsyannikov, the deputy director of the Russian polar bear reserve on Wrangel Island, warned that Chukchi polar bears were already dying because of global warming and poaching.
Ovsyannikov said the population has shrunk from “about 4,000 to no more than 1,700 at best” in the past three decades. He said polar bear populations would be wiped out in 20 to 25 years.
Getting an accurate count of Chukchi Sea polar bears has been difficult for scientists. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) puts the subpopulation at 2,000, but that figure is based on “expert opinion” and still uncertain.
IUCN also lists the Chukchi Sea as one of the nine polar bear subpopulations with “insufficient data to provide an assessment of current trend,” according to the group’s Red List.
Globally, however, the total polar bear population has increased in recent decades, largely due to restrictions on hunting and trade. Arctic countries have also cracked down on polar bear poaching.
IUCN estimates there are about 26,000 polar bears in the 19 subpopulations. Scientists warned receding Arctic sea ice could drastically decrease polar bear numbers in the coming decades.
Polar bear numbers, however, seem to be stable despite Arctic sea ice levels falling faster than most models predicted.