Polar Bears of Hudson Bay- Part 2


The following is the second of a 3-part story I wrote for the Columbus Dispatch and which I have included in my book, Travel Tales.The conclusion comes next time.

* * *

Michael Goodyear is a 40ish, friendly man clad in the standard unisex uniform for these parts: flannel shirt, jeans and thick-soled boots. He offers me a cup of coffee and, after a few pleasantries, our conversation turns to the many and varied circumstances affecting area wildlife.

The problem in a nutshell, says Goodyear, is global warming. And he is emphatic: the planet is indeed warming and that is a fact beyond dispute. The only possible controversy, he says, is the extent to which the warming is “human driven.”

But whatever the cause, he says, warming is having an effect on the polar bears here. Hudson Bay is freezing later and thawing earlier, allowing less time for the bears to fatten up on seals. That, in turn, means bears gain less weight over the winter and they are therefore less prepared for what amounts to their summer-long fast.

Goodyear quotes hard numbers: there are now 934 polar bears in this area – a decline of 22 percent over the past 20 years.

But can’t the bears simply move farther north where the bay freezes earlier and thaws later in the Spring? Certainly, he says, but there are already other bears north of here, and any given habitat can only sustain a finite number of animals, whether bears or foxes or seals.

I ask Goodyear what his prediction is for the future of these bears. He shifts uncomfortably in his chair and stares out the window for a moment. “I’m an optimist,” he says finally, “so I’ll give you my most optimistic prediction. It is this: in 50 years the polar bears will be gone from the western Hudson Bay area.”

Ten minutes later, I’m once again in my rental car, rattling over the dirt road on the way back to Churchill. The wind has picked up and there are snow flurries when I pull up in front of the Bluesky Bed & Sled, so named because the owners, Jenafor and Gerald Azure, maintain several teams of sled dogs and take guests on thrilling if bone-chilling rides. It’s cold today, but there’s still not enough snow for the sleds and the dogs will be pulling wheeled carts along the rutty trails. 

(To be concluded next time)