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Polar bears are starving—and it’s only getting worse

Polar bears will not be able to adapt to ice-free environments and are likely to starve to death, new research has found. As safe habitats for polar bears continue to shrink rapidly due to the climate crisis’ impact on polar regions, scientists carried out a study to understand whether these majestic creatures can adapt to new environments.

Over three weeks in summer, Canadian researchers closely monitored 20 polar bears, employing collars equipped with video cameras and GPS to gain insights into their behaviour and energy expenditure when stranded on land. The results, published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, reveal a grim reality for these creatures as they grapple with the challenges of a changing environment.

Despite the bears attempting various strategies to maintain energy reserves, such as resting, scavenging, and foraging, nearly all of them experienced rapid weight loss, averaging around 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, per day. This weight loss occurred regardless of whether the bears were actively foraging or conserving energy through extended periods of rest, researchers from western Hudson Bay region of Manitoba, Canada, said.

Charles Robbins, the director of the Washington State University Bear Center and co-author of the study, says adapting to land like their grizzly bear relatives seems unlikely for polar bears.

“Neither strategy will allow polar bears to exist on land beyond a certain amount of time,” Mr Robbins says. “Polar bears are not grizzly bears wearing white coats. They’re very, very different.”

Some adult male polar bears opted to conserve energy by resting, and burning calories at rates similar to hibernation. Others actively searched for food, consuming bird and caribou carcasses, as well as berries, kelp, and grasses.

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Washington’s snowpack on track to decrease by nearly half by 2080s

The snowpack in Washington’s mountain ranges has seen up to a 60% decrease over 75 years and that trend will likely continue for the rest of the century.

Jim Smith owns and operates Snow Sports Northwest, a ski school based at Snoqualmie Pass in Washington that teaches hundreds of students every year. His father founded the company in the late 60s.  Scott Goddard was hired by Smith’s father in 1983 and has an equally long history skiing this area. Goddard now runs the Saturday school. The school’s instructors have the task of navigating the terrain with hundreds of kids, something made harder in season’s like this year. The season’s El Niño forecast has delivered. Snow totals are a fraction of normal, creating a domino effect on many industries.

A map from the EPA shows the trends in April snowpack in the western U.S. from 1955 to 2022. In Washington, most areas’ snowpack is down between 20 to 30%, with some areas decreasing as much as 50 to 60%. 

Washington State University PhD candidate Luke Reyes is based in Vancouver, Washington, and is devoting his studies to snowpack vulnerability in the western United States. Reyes and his research team recently published this study, which analyzed the snowpack during the Pacific Northwest heat dome of 2021, when temperatures skyrocketed into the triple digits for days straight and killed hundreds of people in the region.

“People would post all these before and after pictures and they’d be hiking on Mount St. Helens or Mount Rainier and there’d be snow one day and there’s nothing a week later,” said Reyes.

But when Reyes and his team looked at the numbers, they realized something huge. The heat dome is not the only reason the snow melted.

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Analysis of McMorris Rodgers announcement

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers has announced that she is not running for reelection.

Cornell Clayton, a professor of political science and public policy at Washington State University (WSU), offered analysis on how this course change from one of the state’s most influential lawmakers will impact the political process.

Clayton’s initial reaction to the announcement was surprise.

“Representative McMorris Rodgers is chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee right now, which is a powerful position that she’s wanted for some time. In many ways, she’s at the height of her power, so that was a bit surprising,” Clayton said.

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Art exhibit honors late faculty member

An art exhibit currently on display at Washington State University Tri-Cities honors the memory of a former staff member.

Four current WSU Tri-Cities faculty contributed their own art creations in various mediums for the exhibit titled “NO PROGRAM”, which honors the life and artistic legacy of Doug Gast, who died in 2020.

In addition to artwork created by Peter Christenson, Phillip Mudd, Kayleigh Lang, and Marguerite Finch, the exhibit also features some of Gast’s work.

“I was excited to have the opportunity to help curate this exhibition,” said Finch. “I briefly knew Doug but knew how much he cared about promoting art on this campus and creating art opportunities for students.”

“NO PROGRAM” contains art from several mediums, ranging from photography, painting, installation, sound, and sculpture. The public is invited to view the exhibit through February in the Consolidated Information Center (CIC) on the WSU-TC campus.

“I believe this exhibition gives students at WSU Tri-Cities a way to engage with art and see what faculty currently working on this campus are doing in their art practice,” said Finch.

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