Polar Bear Specialist Group adds WWF and PBI activists as full voting members

In a previous post I noted:

In 2009, for the first time, the polar bear biologists that make up the IUCN’s Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) invited four professional advocates – not one or two, but four – to their exclusive, once-every-four-years meeting of top polar bear biologists (called “delegates”) from the world’s Arctic nations (Canada, Russia, USA, Greenland/Denmark and Norway) – two from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and two from Polar Bears International (PBI).

In that post, I mentioned that there was an “exclusive members-only meeting” scheduled for October 24-27, 2013.

Well, I just came across a notice on the PBSG website that tells us what went on at that meeting.

The Polar Specialist Group (PBSG) voted unanimously to embrace World Wildlife Fund activist Geoff York and Polar Bears International activist Steve Amstrup as delegates with full voting rights until 2016. This is a first: never before have employees of activist organizations been made full member-delegates of this formerly exclusive organization.

With this move, the PBSG are telling the world that they are an advocate association first and a scientific organization second.

Here is the PBSG’s introduction to their new list of members:

At the member’s meeting in Oslo in October 2012 the PBSG unanimously decided to increase the maximum size of the group from 25 to 35 members. It was deemed necessary to facilitate the inclusion of additional expertise that will help meet future challenges as well as preparing to replace members who may retire in the not too distant future. Furthermore, in these times of increased publicity and media focus on everything to do with polar bear science and conservation, the Chair have decided that it is important that the background and experience of the members are known to the public. [my bold]

Is this saying that to meet the “challenge” of needing to be even more forceful in communicating their position that polar bears are endangered species (despite evidence to the contrary, see previous post here), they realized they might need the help of professional activists? And that as their most experienced delegates take up employment at activist organization in their retirement years, there needed to be a change in PBSG rules to allow them continued membership?

And their entire membership agreed with these changes. That’s telling.

I noticed with both amusement and concern that on the page devoted to summarizing the “background and experience of the members,” only the two new activist (bios copied below) have pictures of themselves holding polar bears. Amstrup’s is the same photo that appears on his PBI website page.

I’ve always wondered about this desire of wildlife researchers to pose with drugged animals. What is this about? Do they think the public all want to cuddle wild animals? Are the photos meant to induce jealousy? Maybe, maybe not – but the ‘cuddling polar bear photos’ are most definitely an appeal to emotions and in this case, clearly separate the government/university scientists from the professional activists.

I’ll also point out that the bio for Steve Amstrup emphasizes his past achievements in his career-long government job as a polar bear biologist but not a single mention that the organization that now employs him full time is an activist organization. PBI was established by Robert Buchanan in part “to inspire individuals to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to conserve polar bears…”

The PBI rallying cry is “Save Our Sea Ice.” I kid you not.

Without further commentary, here are the bios of the new activist members. Whole list here, backup pdf here.

Steve Amstrup



Country: USA
Affiliation: Polar Bears International (Chief Scientist, Ph.D.)

Dr. Steven C. Amstrup is Chief scientist for Polar Bears International. He also is an adjunct professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. He earned a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Washington (1972), a M.S. in Wildlife Management from the University of Idaho (1975), and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (1995). Prior to joining PBI, he led polar bear ecology research in Alaska for 30 years. He is a past chairman of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and has been an active member of the group for 32 years. Dr. Amstrup has authored or coauthored over 100 peer-reviewed articles on movements, distribution and population dynamics of large mammals. He is the senior editor of a recent text on population estimation methods. In 2007, he led a USGS research team in production of 9 reports that were instrumental in convincing the US Secretary of Interior polar bears should be declared threatened. More recently Dr. Amstrup led an effort showing polar bears are not unavoidably doomed. In the December 2010 issue of Nature, he and his coauthors showed that preserving polar bears is all about controlling man-caused temperature rise. In 2012, Amstrup was selected as recipient of the Indianapolis Prize, and a Bambi Award for his efforts in animal conservation.

Geoff York

York_PBSG 2013

York_PBSG 2013

Country: USA
Affiliation: WWF Global Arctic Programme (Senior Programme Officer)

Geoff lived in Alaska for 21 years coming north to pursue a Masters degree in science/biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He has many years of field experience in the Arctic, most recently as a biologist and program manager for the US Geological Survey’s Polar Bear Project, the leading polar bear research team in the US, where he conducted fieldwork in the capture and handling of free ranging polar bears, radio telemetry, and the use of FLIR technology for the detection of polar bear dens. He started working for WWF in 2008, where his primary responsibilities include: providing global leadership and coordinated policy advice for the WWF network on polar bears and Arctic species, oversight and leading development and implementation of WWF’s polar bear conservation strategy, supporting funding proposals, developing and reviewing policy, and coordinating with relevant WWF bodies, external partners, and donor organizations. As a Flagship leader for WWF, he leads network-wide development and implementation of WWF’s strategy for polar bear conservation; undertaking gap analysis of delivery on priorities, mobilizing network support and coordinating updates and revisions of conservation plans; coordinating of a unified WWF polar bear communications strategy and engaging directly in communications activities with the public and media; identification of new sources of funding and development of relationships with new donors; and identification of opportunities to drive stronger conservation measures.

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