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Drowning polar bear myths and other notes


Just a quick entry today on a couple of items.
Readers should take a look at Margaret Wente’s column in the Globe & Mail (May 4) in which she questions (you could say “demolishes”) the story about “drowing polar bears” and the idea that they’re in danger of going extinct. While it’s true that in some places where ice is melting bears have been adversely affected, in most areas their numbers have increased. The populations are actualy thriving, in large part because of hunting legislation. Canada is home to two-thirds of the 22,000 to 24,000 polar bears in the wild, and in 11 of 13 distinct subpopulations, the numbers are stable or increasing. Over hundreds of thousands of years, the bears have survived warmer and colder conditions than those of today.
I was glad to read this article as other accounts upset me greatly. Perhaps Wente doesn’t have the whole story, but her article at least provides some balance to recent statements from people like Tim Flannery (author of the Weather Makers who recently toured Canada to promote his book) and David Suzuki that polar bears will be extinct within our lifetime. Anyway, read the article for yourself and make up your own mind.
On another note, I just wanted to mention a heart-warming experience I had two nights ago. My Rotary Club in Collingwood is responsible for a tract of land and creek that forms about a mile of the town’s extensive hiking and biking trails. We maintain a garden and once per year stage a cleanup evening where everyone comes out with garbage bags, rubber gloves, and so on and walks the trail, picking up litter.
I agreed to put on some hip waders (what a fashion statement) and walk our length of the creek. Frankly, previous cleanups have already restored to an almost pristine condition what used to be an awful mess. But I did fill about one large leaf and lawn clear plastic bag with all kinds of junk. Not surprisingly, I noticed a lot of Tim Horton’s cups and lids, quite a few plastic grocery bags, and fast food items like potato chip bags. Unusual items included quite a few tiny dark plastic bottles, which we surmized were “Bitters” bought by teens and tramps alike to achieve a cheap alcoholic buzz, and a VERY heavy metal railway connector stuck in the mud. (The trail was established on what used to be the railway line that ran from the Collingwood Terminals to Toronto.) It took two of us to carry it all the way to the litter drop off area — frankly, it was so heavy I would have just left it there, but my friend decided it was a form of pollution, so he’s more green than me, I guess (and I’m lazier).
The reason I say this litter cleanup was “heart warming” is that it reminded me of the time 35 years ago when I was ten — the same age as my oldest son — in 1970 when I participated in a similar ravine/trail cleanup with my family as part of an Earth Day anti-litter campaign championed by an outdoor sports and fishing columnist for the Toronto Sun newspaper. I recall that my brother and sister and I dressed up in green plastic bags with pop cans and other junk tied to us as “garbage” for the local Mayfair Parade. It was fun, and was the beginning of my very slow evolution as a conservation-minded person. (Sorry, but I’m just to cynical to use the word “environmentalist” for myself and would be laughed at for using such a term anyway.)
I suggest you organize a cleanup of a stretch of land or watershed in your area, if there isn’t one already. It’s a very good way to impart some sense of respect for our environment to children, and to teach them that they can become physically active in helping clean things up, rather than just talking about it.


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