How does global warming affect hunting season?

Since global warming has affected polar bear populations, Inuit hunters find their traditions slipping away. See more arctic animal pictures.
Chris Anderson/Aurora/­Getty Images

­Global warming has long been accepted as fact in the scientific community. And since Al Gore's 2006 climate documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," climate change has gained more mainstream believers. The cause of global warming may still be disputed in some circles -- is it a natural process or a result of human actions? But either way, its effects are being felt all over the world, from the Antarctic, where ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, to tropical coastlines, where beaches are shrinking as sea levels rise.

­The science of global warming revolves around a proces­s known as the greenhouse effect. When so-called greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide, are pumped into the atmosphere at extremely high rates, they build up in Earth's atmosphere. These gasses trap heat in a sort of bubble around the planet, causing increased temperatures and accompanying weather changes.

­For decades, global warming has been considered a purely environmentalist concern -- a vegetarian's cause. Take, for instance, the ice sheets melting off the coast of Alaska. Tons of research has focused on what that's doing to the polar bear population there. Since polar bears hunt primarily on ice, the early melting of that ice means a shorter hunting season. A shorter hunting season means starva­tion, decreased reproductive capacity and a lower survival rate for polar bear cubs. The result could be extinction.

The plight of the polar bear gets a lot of press. A topic that gets much less press is the effects of global warming and shrinking animal populations on the hunters at the very top of the global food chain -- humans. It turns out that the shortened hunting season for polar bears themselves has a trickle-up effect on the people who hunt those bears.

In this article, we'll look at global warming's effect on a community that isn't traditionally considered "tree-hugging": the humans who hunt animals for food and sport. Climate change is causing some pretty serious problems for hunters, and it looks like it's only going to get worse.

­It's a logical jump from climate change to shrinking hunting seasons: Warmer weather has a profound effect on prey like moose, birds and, of course, polar bears.