Posts Tagged ‘ice age’

Photo: Jack Plant
A spirit bear in British Columbia. “A recent study revealed that the white bear is rarer and more vulnerable than previously thought.” says the

When my grandchildren were old enough for a story but young enough for “The Three Bears,” I often created variations on demand. The youngest granddaughter in particular had a range of complicated story lines she wanted to hear, in which Baby Bear had her name and an older brother bear had her brother’s name.

Because almost everyone likes stories about bears, I’m telling three today. All true.

Alexandra Harvey reported the first story for the Guardian. “When Marven Robinson was a kid, any mention of spirit bears was met with hushed dismissal from the elders in his community, the Gitga’at First Nation of Hartley Bay, British Columbia. Since the 19th century, Indigenous peoples in the area learned to keep the bears with ghostly coats a secret to protect them from fur traders.

“As the ancient legend goes, the Wee’get (meaning the ‘raven,’ known as the creator of the world) turned every 10th black bear white to remind people of the pristine conditions of the Ice Age.

“Spirit bears are white-coated black bears that inherit their pale fur from a rare recessive gene. Known as moksgm’ol, meaning ‘white bear, spirit bears are sacred to the Indigenous people who live in the Great Bear Rainforest. …

“A recent collaborative study by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Gitga’at First Nations and academic researchers has revealed that the white bear is rarer and more vulnerable than previously thought.

“Researchers spent eight years combing 18,000sq km of the rainforest, placing lures on barbed wire to collect hair samples from black and spirit bears and map out the presence of the white bear gene. … The study concluded the gene that causes spirit bears is up to 50% rarer than previously thought. Urgently, about half of spirit bear hotspots fall outside of British Columbia protected areas, making their habitats vulnerable to logging, mining and drilling projects.

“Spirit bears have long been present in First Nations traditional song, dance, and storytelling. … Before he saw a spirit bear for himself, Douglas Neasloss, co-author of the study and resource stewardship director for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, doubted they even existed. When he was 17, he went in search of spirit bears, half in jest, with some friends.

‘I just thought they were pulling my leg,’ Neasloss said. …

“Sure enough, as he was walking through the forest, he saw one of the magical white bears making its way toward him, sun shining through the trees, salmon hanging out of its mouth. From that moment on, he knew they had to be protected. …

Research by University of Victoria scientists found, because of their white color, spirit bears have a unique advantage over black bears when catching salmon since they blend into the daylight. Spirit bears’ propensity for catching salmon helps explain their resilience despite being so rare, says Christina Service, wildlife biologist for Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation Stewardship Authority and lead author on the spirit bear study.

“Worryingly, climate change is wiping away salmon stocks, posing a big threat to bears’ food supply. British Columbia’s Pacific salmon populations have declined by over 80% since the 1990s. Neasloss says 2020 has been the worst year yet.

“Equipped with new information about the vulnerability of spirit bears, the question now is how best to protect them. For Neasloss and many others who know the bears intimately, the answer is obvious: Leave it up to the First Nations, the original stewards of the land. … Neasloss is involved in efforts to create a new land designation for the rainforest called an Indigenous Protected Area, a conservation strategy that is gaining traction across Canada. …

“ ‘For the last 150 years, we’ve been on the outside looking in,’ Neasloss says. ‘Drawing a line on the map does not protect an area. The people do.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

For the second of my three bear stories, I offer one from CNN, where Anna Chernova and Lianne Kolirin wrote, “The perfectly preserved remains of an Ice Age cave bear have been discovered in the Russian Arctic — the first example of the species ever to be found with soft tissues intact. The astonishing find was made by reindeer herders on the Lyakhovsky Islands, which are part of the New Siberian islands archipelago in Russia’s Far North.”

Interesting that indigenous people are involved in that story, too, and that they’re sharing their information with nonindigenous scientists.

There are no indigenous people involved in my third story, as far as I know. According to Travis Anderson at the Boston Globe, a bear has raided a Covid food pantry at a Westhampton, Massachusetts, church. Quoting the church’s website, he writes, “This week the bears decided that they had more need of the food bank than we did, so we’ve had to temporarily disband services.”

The church is looking for a new site.

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In high school, I had a small part in Thorton Wilder’s play The Skin of Our Teeth. As arch and self-conscious as it is, there are phrases that stick with you for your whole life. Even my sister remembers phrases, and she wasn’t in it. One of my brothers had a small role in a different production and remembers the ad-libbing part where a key actor supposedly has fallen ill, and the stage manager and all the cast and crew come out on the stage, and one of the ad-libbers says, “It must have been the chocolate matzohs.”

Among the phrases that stick for a lifetime are: “We came through the Depression by the skin of our teeth. One more tight squeeze like that, and where would we be?” and “Pray God nothing happened to the Master crossing the Hudson River!” and “Sabina, you let the fire go out!” and “The dogs are sticking to the sidewalks!”

The dogs were sticking to the sidewalks because there was an Ice Age going on, complete with woolly mammoths. … I know.

Anyway, there are those of us who to this day express how cold it is by exclaiming, “The dogs are sticking to the sidewalks!” It’s that kind of weather in New England lately. Suzanne’s family went skiing in New Hampshire near Mt Washington when I saw on twitter that the temperature at the top of the mountain was minus 81 degrees. That’s what my husband calls Type 2 Fun, the kind of fun that is only fun in retrospect, when you can tell the story.For more on The Skin of Our Teeth, click here. And here is one of my more recent wintry photos. Sunny but bitterly cold.011114-tree-branch-Concord

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At Public Radio International’s “The World,” David Leveille has a story on research at Ellesmere Island in northern Canada.  There, University of Alberta biologist Catherine La Farge is finding that some frozen plants are able to begin growing again after 400 years on ice.

“Cold as it may be during the winter,” writes Leveille, “it’s a part of the world where glaciers are melting and ice sheets are breaking up due to climate change.

“One glacier there is called the Tear Drop glacier. As it has melted, some interesting plant life was exposed.”

La Farge’s results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “suggest that bryophytes, representing the earliest lineages of land plants, may be far more resilient than previously thought, and likely contribute to the establishment, colonization, and maintenance of polar ecosystems.” Who knows what else is under the glacier and about to be thawed out.


Photo: Catherine La Farge
In vitro culture of Aulacomnium turgidum regenerated from emergent Little Ice Age plants beneath the Tear Drop Glacier, Sverdrup Pass, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.


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