The polar bear is the largest land predator on the planet. Its sheer size, power, grace, cuteness (when young) and its endangered status has made it an emblem of the environmental movement and a source of pride to countries that are home to them. However Jon Mooallem, writer for the NYT Magazine, has discovered that Canada has conducted a disturbing bureaucratic cost assessment that puts a dollar value on the lives of polar bears. The figure appears in a lengthy report from June 2011 coldly called “Evidence of the Socio-Economic Importance of Polar Bears for Canada” that essentially asks the question: “How much is it going to cost for us to save them and is it worth it?”
The report states that Canada is home to approximately 15,000 polar bears (representing two-thirds of the global total), with the population extending to four provinces and three territories within the Arctic marine environment. The report adds that the species is of cultural, spiritual and economic significance to Canadians, and particularly to Canada’s Northern Aboriginal peoples. As a symbol of the pristine Arctic environment, polar bears are seen throughout the world as a barometer of important environmental issues, especially climate change and pollution.
Just when you think the report is on the bear’s side, it states “as a background analysis in support of the regulatory and future decision-making processes, this document explores evidence of economic values relevant to polar bears as well as economic activities affecting the polar bear and its habitat.”
The first part of the report covers socio-economic factors such as tourism, aboriginal hunting and “use of the polar bear as a symbol.” The second part focuses on the analysis of economic activities which could have an impact on the polar bear and its habitat, such as mining and oil and gas exploration.
We’ll leave you to read the full report, but in short the value for preserving the species was by far the most significant in monetary terms. It amounted to $6,320 million/year for all of Canada. The value of viewing polar bears in the wild came in second at $7.2million/year, sport hunting was third at $1.3million/year and subsistence hunting was fourth at $0.6million/year.
Make of that what you will.