Andrew Derocher refuses to accept that polar bears have been saved

Andrew Derocher, an known polar bear advocate, has been making headlines again, this time promoting a new “policy paper” he is lead author on that has just been accepted for publication. He and his colleagues simply refuse to accept that the polar bear has been saved (population numbers have rebounded dramatically since protective legislation was introduced in 1973) and it seems all they can think of to do now is press for ever more restrictive regulations.

The timing of the release of this paper is very convenient: Fish and Wildlife biologists and polar bear activists worldwide are actively campaigning to get CITES, at their meeting next month, to make it illegal to trade in legally harvested polar bear parts (see previous post here). Canada is also under international pressure to up-list the status of the polar bear to “threatened,” see post here.

The article itself is behind a paywall (abstract and co-author list below), so it is unlikely that many people outside the choir of conservation advocate subscribers of the journal will ever read it, so Derocher is talking it up big time, with the help of his university PR department. Timely indeed. [h/t WUWT]

Update Feb 12, 2013 – I now have a copy of the Derocher et al in press paper. If anyone would like to see it, please send me a note via the “Commments-Tips” page above

Update October 20, 2013 – the Derocher et al. paper is now in print and I’ve updated the citation information below

Here is the headline from the University of Alberta press release, which is likely to be picked up by news wire services across Canada and around the world: “Prepare now to save polar bears, say researchers.” I’ve made some comments in square brackets, with reference to notes below by number.

(Edmonton) A University of Alberta polar bear researcher and 11 international co-authors are urging governments to start planning for rapid Arctic ecosystem change to deal with a climate change catastrophe for the animals. [see note 1 regarding the advocate affiliations of the co-authors]

U of A professor Andrew Derocher co-wrote a policy perspective urging governments with polar bear populations to accept that just one unexpected jump in Arctic warming trends could send some polar bear populations into a precipitous decline. [so say computer models, but so far, this has not yet happened. However, the opposite – dramatic declines due to excessive ice – has been documented several times, see note 2 below]

“It’s a fact that early sea ice breakup, late ice freeze-up and the overall reduction in ice pack are taking their toll,” said Derocher. “We want governments to be ready with conservation and management plans for polar bears when a worst-case climate change scenario happens.” [there is only 30 or so years of detailed sea ice data – one data point in climate terms, which is not enough to plot a trend. Besides, sea ice lows in August and September are meaningless for polar bears, see note 3 below]

The effects of climate change on polar bears are clear from both observational and modelling studies in many areas where the bears are found. Earlier studies by Derocher and his colleagues show that one very bad ice year could leave hundreds of Hudson Bay polar bears stranded on land for an extended period. “Such an event could erase half of a population in a single year,” Derocher noted. [ note that a “very bad year” for polar bears in some places is a really cold winter, see note 2 below ]

“The management options for northern communities like Churchill would range from doing nothing, to feeding the bears, moving them somewhere else or euthanizing them,” said Derocher. [see note 4 below: there is no evidence that polar bears in Western Hudson Bay are in decline. Derocher doesn’t like the Gov’t of Nunavut’s latest survey numbers that show the population has not continued to decline as models predicted but a more recent survey (than 2004) that would be “acceptable” for these advocates has not been done – I suggest they put up or shut up]

Here are my notes to the above comments in square brackets above (I may have more to add later):

1. All of the authors of this “paper” are members of advocate associations, which the “author affiliations” list of the paper has conveniently left out (see list below). See previous posts here and here.

2. Just one unexpected increase in sea ice – a very cold winter – could send some polar bear populations into a precipitous decline, for which we have documented proof, see posts here and here.

3. Polar bears need sea ice in the spring and early summer – the minimum extent reached in September, which the hue and cry is all about, is meaningless for polar bears, see posts here and here.

4. Data for Hudson Bay polar bears is seriously out of date, there is no proof that declines that occurred between 1998 and 2004 have continued but some evidence that there has been a significant recovery, see previous posts here, here, and here.

Author Information as listed on the paper citation (advocate membership is in bold, added by me, which is not on the original citation list). PBSG is the Polar Bear Specialist Group, an international conservation organization that has proven itself willing to put advocacy first and science second, see previous posts here and here.

1. Andrew E. Derocher & Ian Stirling: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. and PBSG, and Polar Bears International
2. Jon Aars & Dag Vongraven: Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway. and PBSG
3. Steven C. Amstrup: Polar Bears International, Bozeman, MT 59772, United States. and Polar Bears International (Senior management)
4. Amy Cutting: Oregon Zoo, Portland, United States. and Polar Bears International (staff)
5. Nick J. Lunn & Ian Stirling: Wildlife Research Division, Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada, Edmonton, Canada. and PBSG and Polar Bears International
6. Péter K. Molnár: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Eno Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA. was instrumental in modeling the predicted decline of polar bears (lead author) – now a new Ph.D . in mathematical biology, in 2005 he was still a Ph.D. candidate, see Aars et al. (2006:125).
7. Martyn E. Obbard: Wildlife Research and Development Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, DNA Building, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada. and PBSG
8. Gregory W. Thiemann:Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada. and PBSG
9. Øystein Wiig: National Centre for Biosystematics, Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway. and PBSG
10. Geoffrey York:Arctic Species Conservation, WWF Global Arctic Programme, Ottawa, ON, Canada. and PBSG (invited specialist) and Polar Bears International

Here’s the actual paper citation and abstract:

Derocher, A.E., Aars, J., Amstrup, S.C., Cutting, A., Lunn, N.J., Molnár, P.K., Obbard, M.E., Stirling, I., Thiemann, G.W., Vongraven, D., Wiig, Ø., and York, G. 2013. Rapid ecosystem change and polar bear conservation. Conservation Letters 6:368-375.

*Correspondence Author: Andrew E. Derocher, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada. E-mail:
Anthropogenic global warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than elsewhere, and already has caused significant negative effects on sea ice-dependent species such as polar bears. Although observed effects have thus far been gradual, the large amount of annual variation in the climate system may cause habitat changes in individual years that exceed the long-term trend. Such years may be below critical thresholds necessary for feeding and result in unprecedented reductions in survival, reproduction, and abundance in some populations. Here, in anticipation of sudden negative population level effects, we provide an overview of proactive conservation and management options. Pre-planning, consultation, and coordination of management responses will be necessary to reduce the risks to human safety and other effects of catastrophic declines in habitat. Advance consideration of the costs, legality, logistical difficulties, likelihood of success, and invasiveness of potential responses will be critical to minimizing short-term negative effects while laying the groundwork for longer-term conservation objectives.

Aars, J., Lunn, N. J. and Derocher, A.E. (eds.) 2006. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 14th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group, 20-24 June 2005, Seattle, Washington, USA. Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission 32. IUCN, Gland (Switzerland) and Cambridge (UK).

Obbard, M.E., Theimann, G.W., Peacock, E. and DeBryn, T.D. (eds.) 2010. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 15th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 29 June-3 July, 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN.

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