Tag Archives: Polar Bear Specialist Group

Polar Bear Specialist Group just had another secret meeting

Well, well, well — it looks the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) just had itself another secret meeting with some extra special guests.

pbsg logoPolar bear scientists and PBSG-approved activists got together a few weeks ago (June 9-13), with no notice beforehand, to continue discussions how (sic) to solve issues of future capacity.”

This was their “second intersessional members-only meeting in a row” (the first one was in October 2012), but they still haven’t had their regular, now long-overdue, “working meeting.” [they had the last one in 2009].

I came upon a notice about this meeting on the PBSG website, which apparently went up June 26, while looking for something else. There has been nothing about it in the media that I’ve seen.

And guess who were “invited specialists” at this meeting of “members-only,” called “to discuss internal matters crucial for the future functioning and capacity of the group”?

Three “climate scientists“!

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Southern Beaufort polar bear ‘decline’ & reduced cub survival touted in 2008 was invalid, PBSG now admits

It is now clear that the phenomenon of bears moving across Southern Beaufort Seapbsg logo subpopulation boundaries compromised the US decision to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) knows that was the case.

As I pointed out last week, the PBSG has admitted in their 2013 status table update (pdf here) that bears move around so much between the Chukchi Sea (CS), the Southern Beaufort (SB), and the Northern Beaufort (NB) subpopulations that major changes in the boundaries of the SB subpopulation are necessary (see Fig. 1 below).

Figure 1. From the paper by Amstrup and colleagues (2005) describing the effect that movement of bears across subpopulation boundaries has on setting harvest quotas – and population estimates. Southern Beaufort boundary is solid red, Chukchi Sea is dashed yellow and Northern Beaufort is dotted light blue. “Point Barrow” is Barrow, AK (well inside the SB boundary). Click to enlarge.

Figure 1. From the paper by Amstrup and colleagues (2005) describing the effect that movement of bears across subpopulation boundaries has on setting harvest quotas and population estimates. Southern Beaufort (SB) boundary is solid red, Chukchi Sea (CS) is dashed yellow and Northern Beaufort (NB) is dotted light blue. “Point Barrow” is Barrow, AK (well inside the SB boundary). Click to enlarge.

Well, that’s not really news — changes to the SB boundaries were promised by the PBSG back in 2009 (Obbard et al. 2010), based on research by Steven Amstrup and colleagues published in 2001 and 2005. But now, in an astonishing admission, the PBSG have acknowledged that the last population survey for the SB (Regehr, Amstrup and Stirling, 2006), which appeared to register a decline in population size and reduced cub survival over time, did not take known movements of bears into account as it should have done.

In other words, that 2006 study almost certainly did not indicate bears dying due to reduced summer sea ice in the SB, as biologists said at the time — and which they presented as evidence that polar bears should be listed by the ESA as ‘threatened’ — but reflected capture of bears that were never part of the SB subpopulation and so moved out of the region.

As the PBSG said about the 2006 estimate:

“…it is important to note that there is the potential for un-modeled spatial heterogeneity in mark-recapture sampling that could bias survival and abundance estimates.” [my emphasis]

Spatial heterogeneity” means that the sampled bears could have come from more than one population, a possibility which violates a critical requirement of the statistics used to generate the population and survival estimates. “Un-modeled” means that the ‘movement of bears’ problem was not factored into the mathematical models that generated the 2006 population size and survival estimates as it should have been.

Ecologist Jim Steele pointed some of this out in his book and his guest post last year, so it’s not news that this was done.

What’s shocking is that the PBSG have now admitted that the ‘movement of bears’ issue essentially invalidates the 2006 population estimate and the much-touted ‘reduced survival of cubs.’ The reduced survival of cubs data from that SB study was a critical component of the argument that US bears were already being negatively impacted by global warming and thus, should be listed as ‘threatened’ under the ESA (US Fish & Wildlife Service 2008).

Since the population decline and reduced survival is now acknowledged to be unfounded — and perhaps deliberately so — I ask you this: will a new SB survey — soon to be released by the same lead author (Eric Regehr) — undo the broken trust in US and PBSG polar bear biologists? Continue reading

2013 PBSG polar bear status table information in one document

As I pointed out on Valentine’s Day, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) has released a revised population estimate for polar bears of 18,349 (range 13,071-24,238), based on a new status table posted February 14, 2014.

PBSG status-table-2013_Feb 14 2014_intro

In that February 14th post, I also pointed out that as for the 2005 and 2009/2010 status tables, the PBSG did not add up the columns and give the totals — you had to do that yourself, which is how I got the numbers above (last week, I made a couple of graphs that show changes over time in their status table estimates). Oddly enough, there is now no mention of an official global polar bear estimate anywhere on the PBSG website.

In addition — and the point of this post — is that to see the details of how and why the PBSG biologists arrived at the population estimates and the status assessments they present (with references), you have to click on the hyperlinked title of each separate subpopulation in the table. While they made a one-page black and white summary of the online colour table available as a pdf (linked at the bottom of the page), they did not make the assessment details from the status table available in pdf format.

So I did it myself, via copy/paste into a Word document that I converted to a searchable pdf, without editorial comment except that I included the totals given above and noted a few glaringly obvious omissions (see below). It took me all of 30 minutes.

I offer it here for more effective scrutiny, convenient reference and archival purposes — because the way it stands now, the online table could disappear tomorrow without any hard-copy evidence of the information hyperlinked within it.

UPDATE February 26, 2014 I checked the PBSG website this morning and the omissions I noted below that were present a few days ago have been fixed. I did not receive a reply to my email notification of the issue. An updated pdf is now available.

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Graphing polar bear population estimates over time

I’ve already commented on the 2013 update of polar bear population status released by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).

However, I thought it might be interesting to graph the changes in global population estimates over time (from 1981-2013) — not just the actual estimates from PBSG status tables (with their min/max error ranges) but those totals plus the so-called “inaccurate” estimates that the PBSG have dropped from their accounts in recent (2005-2013) assessments: Chukchi Sea, East Greenland, Queen Elizabeth Islands (now known as the “Arctic Basin”), and Laptev Sea.

In 2001, those “inaccurate” estimates contributed 5,000-5,400 bears to the global total, but now they’re gone — no bears from those regions contribute to the official totals listed on recent PBSG status tables.

Adding those dropped estimates back into the global totals makes it possible to generate a graph in which the global estimates are truly comparable over time.

To see how the dropped estimates influenced the perception of population change over time, I’ve also graphed the estimates given by the PBSG in their status tables. I’ve combined the two into one image (Fig. 1, click to enlarge) to make comparison easy.
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Polar bear population now officially 13,071-24,238 says IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group

Without fanfare of any kind (so far), the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) has just announced, via a notice posted on its website, that it has revised the population estimate for polar bears to 18,349 (range 13,071-24,238), based on a new status table posted today.

The average is down slightly from the 2009 estimate of 19,747 (which was officially stated as “20,000-25,000″), but that “decline” is an illusion.

As for the 2005 and 2009/2010 status tables, they do not add up the columns to give the totals — you have to do that yourself, which is how I got the numbers above. There is no mention of a change to the global estimate total in any of the “announcements” on their website.

As occurred in 2005 and 2009
, an overall reduction in the total was achieved primarily through removal of an estimate present on their tables since 1993 (Laptev Sea, “800-1200″). Changing this estimate to zero reduced the average total by 1,000 but does not reflect a real-world change.

In addition, four subpopulation estimates were reduced, three of them only slighty (details below) and three subpopulation estimates (Foxe Basin, Western Hudson Bay and Southern Hudson Bay) were increased to reflect recent aerial survey results. Two others were increased slightly.

A new column has been added to the status table, again without explanation, called the Trend relative to historic level (approx. 25-yr past).” Although only seven out of 19 subpopulations had anything like an accurate estimate in 1989, four are now considered to have been “not reduced” while three are considered “reduced.” Why this is considered meaningful enough to add to the table is not clear.

The PBSG say they have decided to update the status table independent of their meetings, which means that no written report or document will be made available to explain any changes — the “justifications” will only be available online.

These are the people we are supposed to trust to provide honest and accurate information about the status of polar bears worldwide. The changes in the status table provided today, which have been made without oversight of any kind, hardly inspire confidence in the information they provide. See what you think.
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Foxe Basin polar bear status – another stable population

Foxe Basin_PBSG

Figure 1. Polar bear subpopulation regions defined by the Polar Bear Specialist Group, Foxe Basin marked.

Foxe Basin is a large subpopulation region (Fig. 1), with a total area of 1.18 million square km (Vongraven and Peacock 2011). It comprises Northern Hudson Bay and western Hudson Strait, and the area between western Baffin Island and eastern Melville Peninsula, with a large island (Southampton Island) in the middle (Figs. 2 and 3).

Figure 1. Foxe Basin polar bears subpopulation region, courtesy IUCN PBSG

Figure 1. Foxe Basin polar bears subpopulation region, courtesy IUCN PBSG

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Polar Bear Specialist Group population status update – officially postponed

I kept a close watch on the website of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) over the weekend to see if an actual population status update might eventually appear (see my last post).

Nothing all weekend, but today (Monday, February 3), the “Population status – Status table” tab (where the 2010 status table was inserted on Friday), returned an error message — the out-of-date status table put up on the day an updated one was promised was simply gone.

However, I noticed that the last sentence of the original December 16, 2013 “Population status reviews announcement had been changed, without any indication that it had been amended.

From December 16, 2013 until February 2, 2014 that last sentence said:

“The new status table and assessments will be published as they are available in web format no later than February 1, 2014.

Now it reads:

“The new status table and assessments will be published as they are available in web format in February, 2014.” [my bold]

The date stamp on this page is February 3, 2014, see screen cap below.

What do you call this — “Bayesian transparency”? I think it means a polar bear population status update may be forthcoming…sometime.

PBSG Population status reviews_Feb 3 2014 notice

Polar Bear Specialist Group population status update is much ado about nothing

I cannot for the life of me fathom why the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) bothered to insert an announcement on their website back in mid-December, promising an updated polar bear status assessment, since the posted January 31 “update” is nothing of the sort — there have been no changes of any consequence.

It therefore appears I interpreted the oddly worded announcement incorrectly and none of the anticipated changes were forthcoming. Baffling, to say the least. Have a look at the new updated documents that were posted yesterday and see what you think.

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The scientific abomination that is the “Circumpolar Monitoring Framework for Polar Bears”

I keep coming across mentions of a grandiose plan for future polar bear research and conservation called the “Circumpolar Monitoring Framework for Polar Bears.”

This “framework” plan was referred to extensively at the recent International Polar Bear Forum (aka the “Meeting of the Parties” that signed the 1973 conservation treaty) held in Moscow, December 3-6, 2013 (see posts about the meeting here, here, and here). In fact, government representatives of all Arctic nations present at that meeting agreed in principle to support the proposed plan.

No media reports that I’ve come across after the Moscow polar bear meeting explained what the “monitoring framework” involved, so I’ve composed a brief summary and commentary, aided by some images from Dag Vongraven’s presentation in Moscow (Vongraven 2013; pdf here).

In short, Arctic government representatives at the Moscow forum agreed that all future polar bear research should be constrained by the premise that increases in global temperatures over the next century will occur exactly as predicted by climate models and will negatively affect polar bears precisely as predicted by models devised by polar bear biologists. Under the plan, subpopulations that are already showing predicted effects of global warming will get the bulk of research funds, while regions that are paradoxically not responding as predicted will get much less money for research and survey efforts. 

This strategy proposes a coordinated research plan that is blatantly agenda-driven: implementing it would seriously compromise the usefulness of all research results generated for decades to come. I don’t think it’s anything close to being a scientifically valid plan, but decide for yourself. 

Figure 1. Vongraven 2013, Slide 1.

Figure 1. Vongraven 2013, Title slide.

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New polar bear population status documents completed but have been withheld

I suggested in my last post of 2013 that the biologists of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) might have learned some lessons over the last year about the folly of withholding evidence, fudging data, and trying to hide good news. However, it appears that was wishful thinking.

In the course of writing the essay on my top posts of 2013, I went to the PBSG website to check something, and blow me over with a feather, found an announcement that had been added a few weeks ago (December 16, 2013) without a whisper to the media.

The old PBSG page, “Population status” – which used to say “The total number of polar bears worldwide is estimated to be 20,000 – 25,000” – has been replace by a notice entitled “Population status reviews.

The former estimate population estimate (“20,000 – 25,000”) can no longer be found on the website and no other figure is offered.

The sidebar menu option “Status table” says “will be published soon.”

I’ve copied the short PBSG notice in its entirety below (pdf here):
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