Here’s a new resource for cooling the polar bear spin, all in one place. I’ve updated and expanded my previous summary of reasons not to worry about polar bears, which is now two years old. In it, you’ll find links to supporting information (including previous blog posts of mine that provide background, maps and extensive references), although some of the most important graphs and maps have been copied into the summary. I hope you find it a useful resource for refuting the spin and tuning out the cries of doom and gloom about the future of polar bears — please feel free to share. Pdf here of the text below.
This is the 1st anniversary of Canada providing population estimates and trends independent of the pessimistic prognostications of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) — so let’s celebrate the recent triumphs and resilience of polar bears to their ever-changing Arctic environment.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Summary
Tagged arctic sea ice, cannibalism, conservation, den collapse, Environment Canada, IUCN, polar bear, Polar Bear Specialist Group, polar bear status, population, Red list, spin, starving, status, summary, threatened, vulnerable
Published in the Business section (Financial Post “Comments”) of the National Post this morning:
“Faux polar bear figures”
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images [from original NP essay]
[not my choice of title, by the way]
In which I conclude:
“We admire polar bear biologists for their professional dedication to this iconic species, and rightly so. However, while it’s understandable that polar bear biologists are conservation-minded, the public and policy makers need them to be scientists first and advocates for polar bear protection second. Polar bears are currently doing well – data shenanigans to keep them classified as “threatened” undermine the whole point of doing science.”
I have written extensively about the Southern Beaufort issue — below are links to some of these, which have links to the rest. References are included in these individual posts. Contact me if there is a reference you cannot find: Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Population, Summary
Tagged Amstrup, Bromaghin, essay, IUCN, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, models, National Post, opinion, polar bear, population estimate, ringed seals, Southern Beaufort, spring sea ice, starving, Stirling, survey, threatened, USGS
Recent research (Crawford and Quakenbush 203; Rode et al. 2014) has shown that sea ice declines in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas have made life better for ringed seals, not worse (as predicted) – ringed seals are in better condition and reproducing better than they were in the 1970s. Why? Ringed seals do most of their feeding in the open-water period (Young and Ferguson 2013), so a longer open-water season means fatter, healthier seals and more fat pups for polar bears to hunt the following spring.
However, Arctic ringed seals (as well as bearded seals) were designated as ‘threatened’ by the USA in 2012 under the Endangered Species Act, based on predicted ice and snow declines due to prophesied global warming. These listings are all about future threats, with no pretense of on-going harm.
Virtually no other Arctic nation has taken this step for Arctic seals — see previous discussion here. There are lots of ringed seals — an estimated 3-4 million world-wide and about 1.7 million within the critical habitat proposed by NOAA (see below).
As weak as the case for listing polar bears as ‘threatened’ has proven to be, the case for listing ringed and bearded seals is even more feeble (a judge has already sent the bearded seal listing back to the drawing board).
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged bearded seal, Beaufort Sea, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, conservation, critical habitat, endangered species, future threats, global warming, IUCN, models, NOAA, polar bear, predictions, public hearings, ringed seal, sea ice, threatened
The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) should have been disbanded in 1996, the year polar bears were down-graded from a status of ‘vulnerable to extinction’ to ‘lower risk – conservation dependent’ (now called ‘least concern’) on the IUCN Red List.
Bumpersticker from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, courtesy Joe Prins.
Polar bears had recovered from previous decades of wanton over-hunting — by all measures used by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, they were a conservation success story.
Why did the IUCN and Arctic governments not break up the PBSG back in 1996? Leaving the group intact once polar bears were down-graded to ‘least concern’ simply made its members desperate to justify their existence. That’s precisely what we’ve seen over the last 20 years — PBSG members working tirelessly to ensure the organization didn’t go extinct.
In fact, polar bears are in no more danger of extinction now than they were in 1996, despite dedicated efforts of the PBSG to convince the world otherwise. Take a look at the history and see if you come to a different conclusion.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged activists, Arctic nations, CBD, conservation status, data deficient, extinction, IUCN, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, least consern, PBSG, polar bear, sea ice models, spin, survival, threatened, vulnerable
A cross-Arctic comparison shows that the US has been the most aggressive in designating polar bears and their main prey species as ‘threatened with extinction’ due to the predicted effects of human-caused (“anthropogenic”) global warming (AGW), even though the US has the least amount of sea ice habit of all circumpolar nations.
I’ve made a chart listing the conservation status of these species across all Arctic nations (Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark (for Greenland) and the USA), as well as the one international body that considers the conservation status of all species (International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN).
Oddly, the IUCN considers the polar bear vulnerable due to future threats from predicted sea ice losses but not ringed seals or bearded seals. This situation highlights the capricious nature of the use of “future threats” (almost exclusively based on predictions of AGW) as a valid criteria for evaluating the conservation status of Arctic marine mammals. It also suggests why the IUCN has tightened considerably its rules regarding this practice.
Posted in Conservation Status, Summary
Tagged AGW, Arctic nations, arctic seals, bearded seal, conservation, global warming, IUCN, North Pole, polar bear, Polar Bear Specialist Group, ringed seal, threatened with extinction, walrus
New evidence has come to light that mark-recapture field work used to calculate a new population estimate for Southern Beaufort polar bears did not conclude in 2010 as implied in a widely-publicized paper last month but continued until 2013.
Steve Amstrup in S. Beaufort, 2005 (USGS photo), co-author of Rode et al. paper.
As I discussed previously, last month’s widely-hyped paper (Bromaghin et al. in press) – which reported a decline of ~40% between 2004 and 2010 (based on spring mark-recapture work) – was contradicted by fall survey counts that suggested strongly a population rebound would have been apparent if the mark-recapture work had continued another two years.
A new paper by Karyn Rode and colleagues (which includes Bromaghin and others (e.g. Amstrup) from the previous paper), summarized in a USGS press release issued on Monday and published online Tuesday, utilized comprehensive data collected during mark-recapture work carried out in spring from 1982 to 2013 in the Southern Beaufort Sea.
This new paper used the same kind of comprehensive data as Bromaghin and colleagues – from the same season, in the same region – to assess potentially negative effects of the mark-recapture research method itself, up to 2012 and beyond.
More on the Rode et al. conclusions later1 – for the moment, what is important is that the work described in the paper confirms that spring mark-recapture work on polar bears in the Southern Beaufort continued beyond 2010. Bromaghin and colleagues didn’t end their mark-recapture work prematurely — they actually left data collected in 2011 and 2012 out of their population estimate analysis when they had to have known the population had not finished rebounding from the 2004-2006 decline.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged abundance, aerial survey, Amstrup, Beaufort Sea, Bromaghin, cherry-picking, IUCN, mark-recapture, models, PBSG, polar bear, population estimate, population recovery, Red list, Rode, satellite collars, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, USFWS, withholding data
The largest conservation organization in the world says that predictive models developed by polar bear biologist Steven Amstrup are utterly unsuitable for scientifically estimating future populations. Earlier this year, mathematical modeling experts at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, who maintain the Red List of Threatened Species, made it clear that Amstrup’s models (used in 2008 to convince the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ due to predicted global warming) do not meet IUCN standards.
I’d say this makes Amstrup’s polar bear projections (Amstrup et al. 2008, 2010) no more scientifically useful than a crystal ball prophesy, but you wouldn’t know it by his recent actions — or the silence of his fellows.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Amstrup, Bayesian models, conservation, crystal ball, data deficient, ESA, extinction, IPCC, IUCN, models, PBSG, polar bear, Polar Bear Specialist Group, predictions, Red list, Resit Akçakaya, sea ice, threatened, vulnerable