St. Paul teen (& Como Volunteer) taking her concern over polar bears to the tundra

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***The article below appears courtesy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday October 9, 2011***

By Frederick Melo

Clara Stahlmann Roeder believes the Earth is warming. As it does, the icy Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, will someday get so warm it may not fully freeze over in winter, and the polar bears that walk the Arctic ice to feed on seals will no longer be able to hunt. Bear cubs swimming long distances in search of solid ice will freeze and drown.

Adult bears will go hungry, and their species will begin to die out.

For Clara, a 16-year-old junior at St. Paul Academy, it’s a very real concern she intends to do something about. Today, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory’s latest “Arctic Ambassador” will ship out for the Manitoba tundra with a dozen students from across the country.

Their aim is to study the bears and the impact of ice melt on the species, a major predator that is otherwise considered the top of the Arctic food chain. The conservation organization Polar Bears International will host the students for a week on the shores of Hudson Bay, where they’ll live in a series of “tundra buggies” – what Clara likens to tour buses equipped for the cold environment – connected to form a small caravan.

It’s “basically a bunch of tundra buggies strung together…right out on the tundra, which is pretty isolated,” she said. “You get to see polar bears traveling right outside your window.”

The Polar Bears International leadership camp is in its eighth year. Last summer’s Arctic Ambassador, Kathryn Razey of Eden Prairie Senior High School, reported 27 bear sightings, including a mother and cub, as well as two males fighting.

“I’m extremely honored to be able to do this,” said Clara, who lives in St. Paul. “I’m very interested in conservation biology. This is what I want to do with my life, so I’m very excited to be able to start so young.”

Two recent studies make her weeklong adventure especially timely. A NASA study published Sunday in the journal Nature found that the ozone layer over the Arctic fell to the lowest levels ever recorded over the winter and spring of this year.

Another recent study shows that the bear young, which have less body fat and buoyancy, are especially vulnerable as ice melts. The study of 68 female polar bears by the U.S. Geological Survey found that 45 percent of bear cubs that went out on long swims lasting 30 miles or more died in search of solid ice, compared with 18 percent of cubs on shorter treks. Clara was selected to participate in the Polar Bears International program after volunteering with the Como Zoo for two summers. She’s shown off snakes and African millipedes to the public at an information desk and learned some basic zookeeping.

She and the other students will be blogging about their experience and posting photos on Polar Bear International’s Facebook page.

Her week in Manitoba will be followed by a yearlong commitment to the zoo to do presentations and media interviews. She hopes to do some environmental advocacy.

“We’ve also got some plans when we get back that we produce at the leadership camp to reduce carbon footprints and educate about climate change,” she said.

Barbara Nielsen, spokeswoman for Polar Bears International in Bozeman, Mont., said the Como Zoo is part of a network of zoos recognized by the nonprofit for their commitment to education and efforts to reduce carbon pollution, a so-called “greenhouse gas” that traps radiation within the Earth’s lower atmosphere.

“Zoos really do play a key role within their communities in conservation,” Nielsen said.