Their status ranges from a "vulnerable" to "endangered" and could be declared "threatened" if the U.S. decides the polar bear is collateral damage of climate change.
Nobody talks about "overpopulated" when discussing the bears' outlook.
Yet despite the Canadian government 's $150-million commitment last week to fund 44 International Polar Year research projects, a key question is not up for detailed scientific assessment: If the polar bear is the 650-kilogram canary in the climate change coal mine, why are its numbers INCREASING?
The latest government survey of polar bears roaming the vast Arctic expanses of northern Quebec, Labrador and southern Baffin Island show the population of polar bears has jumped to 2,100 animals from around 800 in the mid-1980s.
As recently as three years ago, a less official count placed the number at 1,400.
The Inuit have always insisted the bears' demise was greatly exaggerated by scientists doing projections based on fly-over counts, but their input was usually dismissed as the ramblings of self-interested hunters.
As Nunavut government biologist Mitch Taylor observed in a front-page story in the Nunatsiaq News last month, "the Inuit were right. There aren't just a few more bears. There are a hell of a lot more bears."
The only thing that enrages an environmental activist more than denying global warming is suggesting to him that it might be good news. Although, to be fair, some of we social conservatives are starting to fret about the moral implications.