Animal Sciences. Hab-Pep by Allan B. Cobb

By Allan B. Cobb

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Researchers have been studying a group of 1,200 bears in the Churchill area for nearly thirty years. These bears are giving scientists glimpses of long-term changes in the climate that may be caused by global warming. The ice is melting earlier and earlier each year, causing the bears to come ashore sooner than they used to. These shorter feeding seasons have led to near starvation among the bears. The combination of climate changes and increased tourism is putting stress on the population of polar bears and increasing the possibility that polar bears desperate for food will encounter people on a more regular basis, endangering human safety.

The adventure travel companies report that they are seeing fewer bears, and thinner bears. They are also reporting more encounters between humans and polar bears on the tundra. In all of these conflicts involving human enterprise and wildlife habitats, there are few easy choices to be made. Environmentalists and animal rights activists raise reasonable questions about the preservation of wildlife for future generations and the right of wild animals to live peacefully in their native forests, deserts, tundras, or wetlands.

In May 1994, the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service finally approved the plan for reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. This led to the successful reintroduction of sixty-six wolves in 1995 and 1996. Monitoring suggests that the wolves are indeed having a positive effect by controlling the populations of elk, bison, and deer. Coyote numbers have dropped, allowing smaller predators such as foxes to regain strength. The reduction of elk, deer, and bison has allowed willow and aspen trees to regenerate and restore overgrazed areas.

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