Posted by: Kirsten | Monday, 21 January 2008

We CAN save the polar bears, by George!

Listening to C-SPAN radio on the way to work today, they were re-airing a Congressional hearing from last week.  I’m not sure if I ever heard the specific purpose of the hearing, but they were definitely interested in the relationship between the government’s desire to sell or lease drilling and exploration rights in the Arctic with the current and future plight of polar bears.  It’s a complicated subject with competing points of view regarding the politicization of the Endangered Species Act, energy independence, global warming, and a beautiful creature whose life depends on the availability of unspoiled ice floes for its daily survival.

As I was listening I couldn’t help wondering if President Bush was going to step in at some point to “save the polar bear” as part of his legacy, and I couldn’t help thinking of the famous story regarding another president, Teddy Roosevelt, and another bear (this one was black) thousands of miles away and over 100 years ago in Mississippi.

The Story of Teddy’s Bear (from the NPS website)

In November of 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt, a noted hunting enthusiast, had been invited to join a bear hunt near the town of Smedes, Mississippi. When the President had initially proven unsuccessful on this hunt, guide Holt Collier determined to find a suitable quarry for Roosevelt. Tracking a 235-pound bear to a watering hole, Collier stunned the unfortunate bear by clubbing it over the head, and tied it securely to a nearby tree. A messenger was sent to summon the President, but when Roosevelt arrived he was unimpressed by the spectacle of a bound, dazed and bleeding bear. He had been dismayed by this unfamiliar method of hunting, using packs of dogs to track, flush out and wear down the prey while the hunter need only lie in wait for the animal to be driven to him. This was far from the strenuous physical challenge Roosevelt was accustomed to and fond of. He not only refused to claim the bear himself, but forbade anyone else from doing so as well. Regrettably, the rarely repeated resolution to the story does not include a happy ending for the bear. Seeing the condition of the injured bear, which had been badly mauled by the dogs, Roosevelt asked that it be put out of its misery and it was killed with a hunting knife.

Reporters with the hunting party soon spread news of Roosevelt’s fair play nationwide. Among those inspired by the story was Washington Post political cartoonist Clifford Berryman, who produced a wildly popular cartoon of the incident. New York City storeowners Morris and Rose Michtom were further inspired by the cartoon, and Mrs. Michtom produced two stuffed bears for sale in their shop. The Michtom family even claimed to have written to Roosevelt and received permission to attach his name to the toy. “Teddy’s bear” swiftly became a nation-wide fad, and later an enduring pop-culture symbol that has long outlasted its inspiration and namesake.

The Story of George’s Bear

So where today’s story ends is anybody’s guess. Will President Bush do something significant enough to have a line of bear toys named after him (Georgie Bears?) or will he fade into history along with a rapidly disappearing species?  Only he and his cabinet appointees are in a position to decide the official fate of polar bears, but it’s up to the rest of us to decide if we’re ready to modify our lifestyle to accommodate other species on our shared planet.  Are you prepared to do your part?  Get ready, because if the government decides polar bears are worth saving, it’ll then be up to us to follow through. Do we really want a planet where the only animals larger than us are domesticated?  How boring would that be!?

Parke Diem!
— Jon

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