Category Archives: Advocacy

IUCN Red Book officials forced scientific standards on polar bear predictive models

As I reported Thursday, the IUCN announcement of a new Red List assessment for polar bear got the usual overwrought attention from international media outlets. However, not one of these contained a quote from a polar bear biologist.


Steven Amstrup, science spokesperson for activist conservation organization Polar Bears International, has so far had nothing to say to the media. Yet, Amstrup was a co-author of the IUCN Red List report. Not until late in the day following the release of the report did his his organization’s website post a short, bland news report (“Climate Change Still Primary Threat to Polar Bears”).

Similarly, Ian Stirling, Andrew Derocher, Nicholas Lunn (also a co-author of the IUCN Red List report), and former WWF employee Geoff York – who are usual go-to guys for polar-bears-are-all-going-to-die media frenzies – have so far been silent and invisible on this issue.

In addition, while the IUCN press release [backup here: 2015 IUCN Red List press release_Nov 19 2015] included a quote from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) chairman Dag Vongraven, as of this morning (21 November, PST), the website of the PBSG contains no mention of this decision – no item in the “News” category  and, more importantly, no update of the status table  or global estimates to reflect the changes contained in the report  (even though they obviously knew it was coming months ago: the report was submitted to the IUCN Red List 27 August 2015).

In my opinion, this silence says it all: polar bear specialists know this assessment is a severe de facto critique of their 2008 assessment (as well as Amstrup’s predictive models) and it’s a big step backwards for their conservation activism. I expect they are silent because they are royally pissed off.

However, this assessment is good news because finally, some standards of scientific rigor have been applied to polar bear predictive models – even though the PBSG were still been allowed to pretend that summer sea ice coverage is critical to polar bear health and survival (Crockford 2015).  Continue reading

Only a 70% chance that polar bear numbers will decline by 30% by 2050

Despite the stupendously unwarranted hype being generated out of the recent release of the 2015 update to the IUCN Red List status assessment for polar bears, in fact the prognosis is better than it has been for years.

That’s because polar bear experts have been forced by the IUCN standards committee to acknowledge the great deal of uncertainty in their predictive models. They now admit there is only a 70% chance that number will decline by 30% over the next 35 years: only slightly higher than a 50:50 chance.

That means there is a 30% chance that the numbers WILL NOT decline by 30% over the next 35 years. See my detailed analysis, where you will find copies of the report and links to the online IUCN Red List assessment.

That has not stopped all major news outlets from treating this report as a new pronouncement of gloom:

CBC, Canada: (“Polar bear numbers to fall as Arctic ice shrinks: study
Population will decline by more than 30% over next 35 to 40 years, experts say”). Except the first sentence admits this is merely “likely”, not “will”:

“Polar bear populations are likely to fall by more than 30 per cent by around mid-century as global warming thaws Arctic sea ice, experts said on Thursday in the most detailed review of the predators to date.”

Mirror UK: “Polar bears facing extinction as numbers ‘to fall by a third over next 40 years’: There is now a high probability numbers of the species will decline by more than 30%, experts claim”

Express UK: “Nearly 8,000 polar bears to ‘DIE OUT’ as vulnerable giants hurtle towards ‘obliteration’: POLAR bears face a “decimation” in the next couple of decades with more than 30 per cent in population set for complete wipe-out in the most terrifying warning yet.”

The Guardian UK: ” Climate change is ‘single biggest threat’ to polar bear survival: ‘High probability’ of a 30% decline in polar bear numbers by 2050 due to retreating sea ice, IUCN study finds”

[Except, as I noted in my previous post, the IUCN report did not evaluate extinction risk].


IUCN Red List says global polar bear population is 20,000 – 31,000 (26,500)

The long-awaited 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears was released today (Wiig et al. 2015) and it includes some rather astonishing details − including the fact that the population trend is unknown.

polar_bear_usfws_no date_sm

1) It confirms the global population size I published in May 2015 (20,129-32,558; average 26,344). See the graph below, now amended to reflect this point. If global numbers do decline over the next 35 years, it will be from a high point not previously acknowledged by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).

Crockford OFFICIAL polar bear numbers to 2015_IUCN concurrs Nov 18

2) The current population trend is listed as: ? Unknown. [NOT declining – if anyone claims it is, send them here: IUCN Red List U. maritimus]

3) It puts the generation time for polar bears at 11.5 years (range 9.8-13.6), a huge drop from the 15 years used in previous predictive models. This change makes a big difference to the model results: three generations (the minimum period needed to show a trend) are now 35 years rather than 45 years.

4) It states there is a 70% chance of a 30% decline in polar bear numbers by 2050 and a 7% probability of a reduction > 50% if sea ice declines as predicted, but noted the large amount of uncertainty in these projections. That means there is a greater chance that numbers will not decline by 30% in the next 35 years (a 30% chance) than that the numbers will decline by 50% or more by 2050. That sounds like good news to me.

5) It will continue to list polar bears as Vulnerable. PBSG biologists managed to prevent polar bears from being listed as Least Concern or perhaps Near Threatened. But they had to give up a lot to get it.

6) The report supplement (Wiig et al. 2015 supppl.) explained why they did not calculate extinction probabilities and extinction is not mentioned at all on the IUCN Red List polar bear assessment page. This assessment only considers the probabilities of a decline in population size by 2050.

Yet, a spokesperson for the IUCN apparently stated (The Guardian, Climate change is ‘single biggest threat’ to polar bear survival; 19 November 2015 ) that:

“There is a high risk of extinction and the threat is serious,” said Dena Cator of the IUCN’s species survival commission. “You could consider polar bears to be a canary in the coal mine. They are an iconic and beautiful species that is extremely important to indigenous communities. But changes to their sea ice habitat are already being seen as a result of climate change.”

Apparently Dena Cator does not expect that people will read the report or find the assessment page on the IUCN Red List website – or she’s giving her personal opinion rather than explaining the report results. More on the points above and links to the report supplement pdf below, with quotes.
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Discovery News spreads old misinformation about W. Hudson Bay polar bears

In a just-released Discovery News piece, Kieran Mulvaney (4 November 2015, “In the polar bear capital, an uncertain future) repeated three misleading statements about Western Hudson Bay polar bears that keep making the rounds, despite the fact they have been laid to rest by the latest scientific reports on  (Lunn et al. 2013, 2014; Stapleton et al. 2014). I reviewed these just a few weeks ago.

Western Hudson Bay bear, Wakusp National Park, August 2011.

Western Hudson Bay bear, Wakusp National Park, August 2011.

1) “Climate change is causing the bay’s ice to melt earlier and freeze later, causing bears to spend longer a shore.”

Not true. Lunn and colleagues stated explicitly that there has been no trend in either break up or freeze-up of WHB sea ice since 2001. Although there has been large variability in dates, that lack of trend that has continued to this year.

2 & 3) “As a consequence, Churchill’s polar bears are decreasing in number (from approximately 1,350 three decades ago to roughly 900-1,000 now) and in physical condition.”

This deliberately misleading statement avoids the fact that the latest surveys found roughly the same number of bears in 2011 as in 2004 (the estimate used by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group for WHB is 1030) when different counting methods were taken into account. The ~900 bear estimate came from the mark-recapture survey, which left out a portion of the range that the aerial survey covered, hence the official estimate of 1030.

In addition, there has been no scientific assessment of body condition or cub survival since before the last population estimate in 2004 – polar bear “experts” keep telling journalists there are declines but have yet to produce any data to support those claims. The latest surveys did not collect data on body condition or cub survival.

Mulvaney’s misinformation is almost certainly the result of spending time in Churchill with activist Polar Bears International spokesperson Steve Amstrup and activist climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe doing webcasts (e.g. “Challenges of communicating climate change”).  

Mulvaney is clearly not a journalist or a science writer: if he was, he would do some research of his own and stop believing as gospel every word that activist scientists feed him. They are using him as a mouth-piece and sadly, Discovery News is buying it all and presenting it as science.

[Hayhoe, by the way, blocked me on twitter earlier this morning for making one observational comment, my first-ever to her account, in response to a conversation about polar bear population numbers. This is what I said that Hayhoe does not want her followers to know:

“Stop wanton slaughter, #’s go up, works for all species. S Beaufort #polarbear #s dipped due to thick spring #seaice”

Both statements are true and supported by scientific literature. But Hayhoe is all about “climate communication” which appears not to allow science to intrude.]

Lunn, N.J., Regehr, E.V., Servanty, S., Converse, S., Richardson, E. and Stirling, I. 2013. Demography and population assessment of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay, Canada. Environment Canada Research Report. 26 November 2013. PDF HERE

Lunn, N.J., Servanty, S., Regehr, E.V., Converse, S.J., Richardson, E. and Stirling, I. 2014. Demography and population assessment of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay, Canada. Environment Canada Research Report. July 2014. PDF HERE [This appears to be the version submitted for publication]

Stapleton S., Atkinson, S., Hedman, D., and Garshelis, D. 2014. Revisiting Western Hudson Bay: using aerial surveys to update polar bear abundance in a sentinel population. Biological Conservation 170:38-47.

Western Hudson Bay polar bear numbers are stable, no trend in ice breakup or freeze-up

This needs saying again: the latest study on Western Hudson Bay polar bears reveal the population has been stable since 2004 and there has been no significant trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates since 2001.

Triplets in Wapusk NP from McCall webpage 2013

Environment Canada and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group concur that the current size of the WHB subpopulation is about 1030 bears. Documents found online indicate a new version of the 2013 WHB mark-recapture report (Lunn et al. 2013) is now available (Lunn et al. 2014) and that a new population survey is planned for 2016. A 2013 story based on false information produced by The Guardian that is still in circulation should be retracted.
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Activist explorer blames more polar bear encounters since 1985 on reduced sea ice

Activist polar explorer Børge Ousland’s told National Geographic that more polar bear encounters on land are due to reduced sea ice –  without any reference to population changes over that time or revealing when or where these observations were made.

IceLegacy_NG video Sept 30 2015

More vague anecdotal observations and opinions posing as scientific evidence.
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Barents Sea polar bears in excellent condition say Norwegian biologists

Conditions this year (2015) in the Barents Sea were excellent according to the polar bear researchers who work there (Polar bears were as fat as pigs”).

Barents Sea bear 2015 August Cobbing_NPI
A new survey just completed for a population count showed the bears were are in excellent condition – except the injured ones, of course, which some news organizations are promoting as evidence of harm from global warming-induced sea ice changes because an activist photographer  – not scientists – said so.

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