Despite the struggles that polar bears face because of climate change, the species population is significantly greater than it once was. Polar bears once faced a much crueler threat than the sun's rays, and in the 1970s the species population hit an all-time low. Thanks to conservation efforts of that time, and their continuation today, polar bears are better off—though the future remains uncertain.
In the 1970s, U.S. government regulations determined that polar bears should be a legally protected species. The nations in which they live restricted the hunting of polar bears, and committed to protecting their habitats. Until then polar bears had frequently been hunted for sport, and their habitats had been encroached upon frequently by humans and industrial development. In the late sixties, the polar bear population was only about ten thousand.
Polar Bears Today
Since earning protected status, the polar bear population has significantly improved. The World Wildlife Federation estimates that as of 2013, the population is between 20,000 and 25,000. Despite that improvement, this species is still officially classified as "threatened" or "vulnerable," which is only one step up from endangered. Human conflicts and climate change threaten their natural habitat, and the species is forced to spend more time on dry land because of of the rapidly melting ice.
Climate and Conservation
Because climate change and arctic industrialization increasingly threaten the polar bear population, conservationist groups continue to advocate for increased polar bear protection. Conservation efforts include advocating for increased government intervention to protect natural habitats, increasing polar bear awareness in arctic communities and proactively monitoring polar bear migratory habits to make sure the bears stay away from humans.
Food Chain Champs
Climate change isn't the only threat to polar bears. Despite their protected status, they can run afoul of humans. Ironically, this is because they are positioned at the top of the arctic food chain, and don't have any natural predators. This dominance gives them the false sense of security that historically made them victims of overhunting, and it can drive them into human territories, putting both man and bear at risk.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.