Tag Archives: threatened

W Hudson Bay mark-recapture studies of polar bears were invalid, says peer-reviewed study

“Our results suggest that mark–recapture estimates may have been negatively biased due to limited spatial sampling. We observed large numbers of bears summering in southeastern WH, an area not regularly sampled by mark–recapture.” Stapleton et al. 2014.

Polar bear at Wapusk National Park (just south of Churchill) in August 2011. Courtesy Parks Canada.

Polar bear at Wapusk National Park in August 2011. Courtesy Parks Canada.

We’ve seen the results of this 2011 study before, in government report format. But now it’s been revamped, peer-reviewed and published in a respected scientific journal – it actually came out in February, without fanfare, but I’ve only just come across it.

Some excerpts below, with conclusions that should raise some eyebrows.

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Activists pressure tactics to force Canada to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ have failed

The Center for Biological Diversity has failed in its bid to use NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) to pressure Canada to list polar bears as a species ‘threatened’ with extinction — wrapping up a story I wrote about twice last year (here and here).

Chukchi male 1240 lbs labeled Durner 2008

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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

Amstrup repeats starving polar bear nonsense, features “Ursus bogus”

As if on cue just before an important polar bear announcement, Steven Amstrup, full time employee of Polar Bears International (PBI), is crying “starving polar bears” yet again, with a laughable twist.

Over at “The Conversation” (a university supported forum for academics), in a piece titled “Cold weather in the US no solace for starving polar bears,” Amstrup uses his adjunct affiliation at University of Wyoming to unleash a bit of unpaid advertising for PBI’s alarmist message (I put it this way because while Amstrup  does disclose his affiliation at PBI, he is more than just an affiliated member, he is their paid spokesperson).

Ironically, the headline photo (Fig. 1) is the notorious “Ursus bogus,” the photoshopped image used by the journal Science back in May 2010 to feature an article on the integrity of science, It was quickly exposed by Tim Blair at The Telegraph (also covered at WUWT), and the journal was obliged to acknowledge the error, replace the image and issue a correction.

In this case, commenter Brad Keyes at The Conversation defends the use of the “Ursus bogus” image with this astonishing statement [UPDATE Jan. 25/14: it has since transpired that this was almost certainly meant to be satire]:

The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’—and readers’—attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images”), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

However, we now know that Amstrup is crying wolf — summer sea ice has been declining despite a hiatus in global warming and unusual numbers of polar bears are not starving. He seems to think that if he keeps repeating his Chicken Little message (with nary a recent photo of an actual starving polar bear) he will convince more people to believe him and donate to PBI. It’s his job to do so of course, so he’s not likely to stop. [pardon my mixed metaphor – Amstrup, if you recall, prefers a Titanic metaphor]
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Polar bear conservation: the next 10 years

As 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of an international agreement to protect polar bears from commercial and unregulated sport hunting, many eyes are looking to the immediate future. What should polar bear conservation look like over the next 10 years?

Do we base conservation measures over the next 10 years on the grim computer-generated scenarios predicted to occur decades from now or on the positive news from recent polar bear studies?

Should we base conservation measures over the next 10 years on the grim computer-generated scenarios predicted to occur decades from now or on the positive news coming from recent polar bear studies?

This week (December 3-6), the five Arctic nations that signed the original agreement are meeting in Moscow to examine this issue and renew the vows they took back in 1973 — but with a decidedly new focus (International Forum on Conservation of Polar Bears).

According to the draft agenda, the delegates will address among other things the perceived threats of future sea ice declines due to climate change and trade in polar bear trophies.

However, polar bears are currently doing well despite recent declines in summer sea ice, and CITES rejected a US-led proposal to ban polar bear trade at their meeting last March – as they did in 2010 – because it was deemed unwarranted.

At this time, polar bear numbers have not declined due to climate change: their “threatened” status in some countries is based on computer-modeled predictions of what might happen three or more decades from now, not ten years ahead.

In fact, polar bears are a conservation success story. Their numbers have rebounded remarkably since 1973: there are many more polar bears now than there were 40 years ago. While polar bear numbers appear to have been stable since 2001 (at 20,000-25,000 bears), this is based on creative accounting by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). Numbers have actually increased by about 2,600 to 5,700 bears since 2001.

The last assessment made by the PBSG in 2009 showed only one polar bear population (Western Hudson Bay) had a statistically significant decline in recent years. Numbers of Western Hudson Bay bears declined 22% between 1998 and 2004, which has been blamed on declining sea ice cover over the last 20 years.

[While a new population estimate, showing a further decline in Western Hudson Bay bears, was released to The Guardian (UK) newspaper last week, that estimate comes from a report that has not yet been made public by Environment Canada. Details of the study are unknown.]

Compare this situation to the adjacent population that lives in Southern Hudson Bay. Polar bears in Southern Hudson Bay have experienced the same increase in length of ice-free season as bears in Western Hudson Bay, but the Southern Hudson Bay population has remained stable over the last 30 years.

Why would a slight lengthening of the ice-free season devastate Western Hudson Bay bears but leave Southern Hudson Bay bear numbers unaffected? Perhaps, it’s because the population in the west has been returning to a smaller, sustainable level after rapid population growth in the 1980s: bears had been heavily over-hunted in Western Hudson Bay before the 1973 protection treaty was enacted.

Aside from the documented declines in Western Hudson Bay, a few other populations were assumed by the PBSG in 2009 to be declining. However, these assessments were based on computer projections over 10 years rather than an actual decline in numbers. Since then, there has not been an official PBSG update of the global population estimate.

We do know that in many regions of the Arctic, polar bears are doing just fine. For example, a recent study shows that bears in the Chukchi Sea are in excellent condition and reproducing very well, despite a dramatic decline in summer sea ice. Contrary to what the computer models predicted, Chukchi bears (shared between the US and Russia) are doing better than virtually all other polar bear populations.

In the Chukchi Sea, ringed seals – the primary prey of polar bears everywhere, now listed as “threatened” in the USA – are also doing better now than they were 20 years ago. As a consequence, bears had more food the next spring, not less, despite the marked decline of summer sea ice.

In fact, polar bear populations in a number of regions have not responded as predicted to recent summer sea ice losses, calling into question the accuracy of models that predicted a decline of 2/3 of the world’s polar bears by mid-century.

This is not really surprising, since we know that over geological time, polar bears have survived extended periods of much less ice than today. A recent genetic study indicated that polar bears survived the Eemian interglacial (130,000 to 115,000 years ago) with a relatively large population, despite much less ice than today. Computer models, on the other hand, predicted almost total extinction of polar bears under similar conditions.

Why this disconnect between predictions and reality? It turns out that summer ice melt (the level recorded in September, announced with much fanfare every year) has impacted polar bears much less than expected. That’s because spring is the prime feeding period for the big white bears, and spring ice coverage (March to June) has changed little over the last 30 years.

In other words, the focus on declines in summer sea ice as a major threat to polar bear survival is a red herring.

Polar bears were indeed threatened with extinction by the early 1970s and Arctic nations were quite correct to sign a treaty to protect them from unregulated hunting. But today, polar bears have a large population that is well distributed throughout their available territory, a recognized characteristic of a healthy species.

Polar bears were brought back from the brink of extinction and are now thriving. Instead of rejoicing over the success of 40 years of good conservation practices and planning to do more of the same, the focus of this week’s meeting of Arctic nations appears to be speculating what awful things might happen decades from now.

Everyone wants to see polar bears continue to thrive. In my opinion, what we need over the next 10 years is dispassionate scientific information — something that has been sorely lacking over the last decade. More polar bear research is absolutely a requirement but we need the results presented without emotional appeals for a particular agenda. Objective scientific information will most effectively guide rational polar bear conservation and sound management practices.

What we don’t need is a computer-manufactured crisis to replace a problem that’s already been solved — or a ban on trade of a healthy species, unless there is very strong evidence of organized poaching and illegal trade.

Ultimately, what will the meeting in Moscow accomplish? It appears that any agreement signed by government representatives will not be a legally binding contract, in contrast to the 1973 treaty. Over the next few days, the press releases and news reports will tell us what the parties involved think they achieved.

Canada again under international pressure to list polar bears as threatened

There was a story in The Guardian on Friday (November 21) about an issue I covered earlier this year (in January): Canada under international pressure to list polar bears as threatened, so far holds out.

This time, Suzanne Goldenberg’s headline proclaims “Canada’s refusal to protect polar bears comes under scrutiny.

The story is all about a petition filed by the ever-litigious Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to the North American free trade organization, the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC), pdf here. The CEC, it seems, has now agreed to investigate the CBD claims.

At issue here is the fact that Canada hasn’t done exactly what the US has done in terms of enacting formal legislation to protect polar bears. Canada, home to 2/3′s of the worlds polar bears (as well as a relatively large Arctic human population) vs. the USA, with the fewest bears in the world but perhaps the loudest, “we know best” attitude. Canada has not declared polar bears to be a species threatened with extinction but the Center for Biological Diversity not only thinks otherwise but thinks someone should force Canada to change its opinion.

It’s more of the same bullying of governments by environmental groups that we’ve come to expect, aided and abetted by activist polar bear biologists.

That said, I suggest you brace yourselves: it’s only going to get worse. We can expect even more of this over the next few weeks, because an important international polar bear meeting is coming up in early December. I expect that the propaganda, aided by an all-too-willing-media, is going to get intense.  Continue reading

Eemian excuses: the warm was different then, polar bears were fine

Today I’ll discuss the response by Polar Bears International representative Steven Amstrup to a comment submitted during their recent “webchat” at The Guardian (Wednesday, November 6), which had to do with the fact that polar bears survived warm periods in the geological past, particularly interglacials.

[Here’s a pdf file of all the questions that were answered by PBI staff: PBI webchat Q&A, also available here]

This is the comment (the first portion of #4 on my list), submitted by MarkBLR:

There was a paper in Science magazine last year (link …) indicating that polar bears became a distinct species about 600kya (+/- 300k years).

This means that they have survived at least two (and possibly eight) previous inter-glacials, in particular the Eemian (130kya to 110kya), when temperatures in the Arctic were 5 to 8 degrees Celcius warmer than current temperatures for several thousand years.

Note that their numbers apparently decreased significantly during the Eemian, and slowly increased as temperatures cooled, but “climate change” was not enough on its own to make them extinct. [my bold]

[We can perhaps forgive Mark for not being able to spell “Celsius” correctly, but Amstrup (see below) has no excuse. The paper in Science Mark refers to is Hailer et al. 2012, discussed in a previous post here. Note that the actual question Mark asked is not included here because Amstrup responded to this portion of his comment only]

Amstrup tries to convince Mark and other readers that polar bear resilience through Eemian warming is irrelevant to the issue of future survival, which I’ll demonstrate is not the case at all.

Here is what Amstrup had to say:
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The two faces of polar bear biologists – Zac Unger interviews Amstrup and Stirling

Former firefighter Zac Unger has been in the news quite a lot over the last few months, promoting his new book, “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye” (see Zac’s website here, where you’ll find a list of some of the articles he’s written; the Canadian Geographic one is very good (“The truth about polar bears”) and was the one that originally caught my attention in early December 2012. One article that I’ve read is missing from that list, “Are Polar Bears Really Disappearing?” (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 8, 2013). There is a book review in the Winnipeg Free Press here (Feb. 2, 2013) and on climate scientist Judith Curry’s blog (Dec. 21, 2012), and an interview with Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente here from Feb. 23, 2013).

I’ve mentioned bits from some of these articles previously: Featured Quote #32 (Feb. 23, 2013) and in my Dec. 16, 2012 post, ‘Species-threatening’ population declines vs. polar bear declines.

In my last post, I promised a follow-up discussion on cannibalism in polar bears, as it has been promoted by polar bear biologists. I recalled a discussion of this by Unger, which I think makes a nice lead-in for my own essay, which I should have up in a few days.

Here is the money quote from Unger (with a link to the NBC interview with Amstrup and Stirling he is talking about). A lengthy excerpt from the article is below, for the context – it’s well worth a read:

[In 2008, after watching polar bear biologist Dr. Steve Amstrup give an interview on NBC News explaining “the evidence behind the decision to list the polar bear as threatened. Evidence like cannibalism.”] “Wait a second. Hadn’t Amstrup just finished telling me that the cannibalism thing was getting too much play by a bloodthirsty media?” Zac Unger, PS Magazine, Dec. 17, 2012 [2:40 min. NBC News video here]

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Collapse of polar bear snow dens – Stirling and Derocher’s anecdotal evidence

In their summary of facts supposedly supporting the premise that global warming is already having an impact on polar bear populations (discussed previously here, here, and here), biologists Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher (2012:2700) include a list of incidents of warm winter weather and/or “rain on snow events” that have led to the collapse of polar bear maternity dens and ringed seal birthing lairs.

Stirling and Derocher state that both polar bears and ringed seals (their primary prey) have a demonstrated

high vulnerability …to increased mortatily resulting from warm temperatures and rain. Such rain on snow events are predicted to increase as the climate warms in the Arctic (Hansen et al. 2011).”[my bold]

However, their so-called evidence for polar bears and ringed seals having a proven vulnerability to these events comes not from scientific studies but what they admit outright are anecdotal reports.

They describe four incidents, including one case of a maternity den collapse (involving a 6 yr old, probably first-time mother and two, 3-4 week old cubs) in the southern Beaufort in 1989, apparently caused by a bit of warm weather followed by heavy snow in late January (a picture of the dead bear is included, see below, just so we don’t forget that a bear died).

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Ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears

IMPORTANT UPDATE March 13, 2013 Benny Peiser over at the Global Warming Policy Foundation has just posted an essay by well-known author Matt Ridley, entitled “We should be listening to Susan Crockford” which is included as a foreword to a pdf of this very post (“Ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears”), suitable for sharing. I encourage you to have a look.

[Update September 28, 2013: See also this follow-up post "Polar bears have not been harmed by sea ice declines in summer — the evidence."]

Polar Bear-Cubs-Canada_Wallpaper

PB  logo colouredThis year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of an international agreement to protect polar bears from commercial and unregulated sport hunting. The devastating decades of uncontrolled slaughter across the Arctic, including the Bering Sea, finally came to an end. And so in honor of International Polar Bear Day (Wed. February 27) – and because some activists are calling 2013 The Year of the Polar Bear – I’ve made a summary of reasons not to worry about polar bears, with links to supporting data. I hope you find it a useful resource for tuning out the cries of doom and gloom about the future of polar bears and celebrating their current success.

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