Save Our Polar Bear

MSU Natural Resources Building Polar Bear

Do you know our polar bear?

By Darrin McCullough

In the 1950’s, the pursuit and harvest of polar bear Ursus maritimas was a legal and prized hunting opportunity on the frigid northern coast of Alaska. Polar bears were numerous with sizable populations throughout the arctic and Alaskan policymakers allowed for their harvest by non-indigenous people with proper licensing. During this time, Mr. Koepplinger from Oak Park, Michigan successfully harvested a massive polar bear near Point Barrow, Alaska, eventually donating the full body mount to the Michigan State University Museum. In 1966, Dr. Howard Tanner accepted this specimen from the museum to place in the lobby of the newly opened Natural Resources Building. Nearly half a century later, our polar bear continues to stand at his post and greet new students of natural resource management while acting as a notable landmark, an honor guard and a stoic reminder of our past successes and future challenges we all face as stewards of our one global environment.

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate student experience in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, I continue to meet fellow Spartan professionals who fondly reminisce about their time under the soul seeking gaze of our polar mascot. We all remember those late nights and early mornings with the ever-present bear standing his post to greet us, wish us luck on that final exam, and bid us farewell as we venture out into an uncertain future as natural resource professionals. Through these shared memories, including frantic preparation for another brutal exam with equally frantic classmates in the Polar Bear Room, sharing amusing anecdotes of ill-considered undergraduate activities, and hearing legendary tales of mischievous graduate students assisting the bear in a migration to the third floor office of their advisor, the bear has become a significant part of who we are as FW students. One can only imagine the professor’s surprise as he was greeted by the nine foot tall predator lurking in his office. Though our bear was successfully returned to his station without damage, the years since then have not been easy on our friend and time has taken its toll on this prominent icon.

Whether you wish to call it a symbol, a mascot, an icon, or a long standing tradition, our bear has tirelessly witnessed our societal triumphs and failures in the conservation of our natural resources and needs our help to be restored. The current estimate to refurbish our friend to pristine condition is $6000, and while this may seem like a lot, as you all know, Spartans will. So that he may continue this honorable tradition, I ask you, my fellow Spartans from across our one earth to come together, pay it forward, and contribute to the Polar Bear Restoration Fund. If we simply join our forces and unite as the one family we are, we can easily remove the uncertain future of this one polar bear and perhaps assist future generations of Spartan conservationists to know the great Ursus maritimas.

Contributions to the Polar Bear Restoration Fund may be made through the Crowdpower site at MSU, linked here:  All donated funds will go to the restoration of our bear with excess funds used to support student organizations, teaching, and research within the department.