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First, the polar bear…now, the Pacific walrus

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By Michelle Malkin  •  May 29, 2008 06:30 AM

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The floodgates of enviro-litigation are wide open. Blame the Bush administration for capitulating to global warming alarmists. After successfully mau-mauing the government into listing the polar bear as threatened based on dubious data, green lawyers are now filing suit to get the Pacific walrus listed as threatened, too.

And it won’t be the last.

The Center for Biological Diversity gave notice this week that it will sue to force federal action on its petition to list the walrus as threatened because of “threats from global warming and offshore petroleum development.” The group filed the petition in February; the Interior Department faced a May 8 deadline for an initial 90-day review of the petition.

Shaye Wolf, a biologist and lead author of the petition, said Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than the best predictions of climate models. “As the sea ice recedes, so does the future of the Pacific walrus,” she said.

The conservation group was one of three that successfully petitioned to have polar bears listed as threatened because of sea ice loss caused by global warming, a decision announced May 14 by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. That listing also followed court action to force deadline decisions.

But on what statistical basis do they claim that the walrus is threatened? As the article states, the current size of the Pacific walrus population is unknown.

Bruce Woods, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman in Anchorage, said the agency is close to finishing a walrus survey. “We do have a population count from the 2006 survey that should be finalized soon,” he said. “That will give us a better basis for evaluating the petition.”

…Arctic sea ice last summer dwindled to 1.65 million square miles, the lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado.

As many as 6,000 walruses late last summer and fall abandoned the remaining ice, which covered deep water, and congregated on Alaska’s northwest shore.

The MSM has hyped alarmist stories of Pacific walrus stampedes, but as blogger Tom Nelson observed last December, the reporting raises more questions than answers.

One AP article, for example, described how “scientists received reports of hundreds and hundreds of walruses dead of internal injuries suffered in stampedes” and quoted biologist Anatoly Kochnev of Russia’s Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography as estimating that “3,000 to 4,000 walruses out of population of perhaps 200,000 died, or two or three times the usual number on shoreline haulouts.”

Nelson asks:

Were anecdotal reports of “hundreds and hundreds” used to come up with the estimate of 3,000 to 4,000? How much actual counting was done? What’s the baseline number of annual stampede deaths? Is anyone checking that any animals found dead were killed in stampedes, rather than dying from some other cause?

A World Wildlife Fund article admits:

The recession of the ice has brought more and more walrus on shore, and over the last ten years, every fall, walruses have congregated on the Vankarem Cape, forming a “haul-out” just a half-mile from the village. Last fall some 20,000-30,000 animals were piled up there. No one has actually counted them all, but the Vankarem residents are certain the number is growing.

Nelson also notes a factor not mentioned in much of the hype: Hunting. And not just by humans, but by…those dang polar bears. He points to info from Sea World’s Pacific walrus page:

As the Pacific walrus population grew, annual subsistence catches by indigenous Arctic peoples ranged from about 3,000 to 16,000 walruses per year until about 1990, and then decreased to an average of 5,789 animals per year from 1996 to 2000.

From the Seal Conservation Society:

Pacific walrus meat has been used for the past 40 years to feed foxes which are kept on government – subsidised fur farms in Chukotka. One estimate made by natives was of an annual kill of 10,000 – 12,000 walruses per year, but this may have been overstated. Recent investigations have found that much of the meat is left to waste and that there are no markets for the resultant fox furs. Fox farming operations in Chukotka are currently in decline due to economic recession. Local unemployment caused by the general economic situation and the closure of the farms has however led to a recent increase in illegal head-hunting.

And from that WWF article again:

In early winter, when the ice is re-forming and walruses leave the beach, up to 100 carcasses remain behind. These blubbery animals offer a perfect meal for wandering and hungry polar bears.

…As soon as the walruses departed, the polar bear patrol spent several days working to collect the remains of walruses killed in the stampedes. Using a tractor, they carted the carcasses six miles west of the village, anticipating that the bears would come from the west in the fall. In the end, they scattered some 80 walruses around selected sites — and then they waited.

In mid-November, a truck driver alerted the patrol to bear tracks on the beach. The wave had begun. For the next three weeks, bears making their way along the coast stopped to graze on the carcasses at this so-called “feeding point” instead of proceeding to the village. At one time alone, Sergey and his team counted 96 bears feeding on the walrus. In total they estimated that 185 bears had been circulating with a six mile radius around the village.

Nelson writes: “Eighty-100 dead walruses out of 20,000-30,000 hauled out on land seems quite low, if Kochnev’s estimate of 3,000-4,000 total stampede deaths is correct (remember, his estimate is based on a population of maybe 200,000, many of which are not hauled out in huge herds).”

As for disappearing ice, tell it to the passengers of this Russian ship that got stuck in Arctic ice–while on an eco-expedition to show off the horrible effects of global warming on the environment.

Oops.

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(File photo hat tip – Anthony Watts.)

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