PBSG determined to see polar bears listed as threatened by the IUCN in 2015

IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group conservation biologists are determined to have polar bears listed as ‘threatened with extinction’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2015 – even though the bears would not meet that classification if assessed today.

According to the minutes of their last meeting (in addition to the astonishing admissions from sea ice experts I reported yesterday), PBSG members are busy planning their strategy. They have thrown objectivity to the wind and are certain they can find a way to mask overcome the inadequacies of their case and see polar bears remain listed as ‘vulnerable’ (IUCN-equivalent to ‘threatened’ in the US) on the 2015 IUCN Red List update.

polar-bear_USFWS labeled

Along with some other priceless quotes, the minutes reveal their plan. See the original document for the context of these quotes here and an excerpt of “the plan” (pgs. 12-17) here.

“…Ø. Wiig noted that polar bears were classified as Vulnerable on the last [IUCN] Red List Assessment in 2006. However, criteria are far more stringent now and another assessment is due by June of 2015. Pg. 14 [In other words, if assessed today, polar bears would not likely meet the requirements of ‘vulnerable.’]

Part of the discussion on what to do about the upcoming assessment included the following statements about a presentation made by the Chairman of the IUCN Standards and Petitions Committee:

Four shortcomings of the Bayesian Network (BN) approach (from the standpoint of the work of Amstrup et al. and the Red List requirements were noted. …It was agreed that the Red List Assessment has quantitative requirements which would not be met by current renditions of the BN model.” Pg. 15

And a bit later, this:

We also need reasonable estimates of the size of all subpopulations; we cannot simply say, for example, that for subpopulations where are [sic] estimates are currently poor that in the future these will be 20% lower.” Pg. 16 [A clear admission here that it does matter to predictions that they don’t know how many bears live in Russia and East Greenland]

Summary and comments:
1) The PBSG is planning to spend considerable time and effort over the next year to ensure the polar bear is listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species for the IUCN Red List in 2015 (an equivalent classification to ‘threatened’ in the US).

In other words, they are not planning to objectively assess whether the bears are indeed ‘vulnerable’ – they have already decided polar bears must be listed as vulnerable and are searching desperately to find a strategy that will make that outcome a reality.

They have essentially admitted in this document that if assessed today by the IUCN – the world’s eminent conservation body polar bears would not meet the requirements of ‘vulnerable.’ If assessed today, polar bears would be downgraded to ‘least concern’ by the IUCN (which was their status classification between 1996 and 2006).

[I have no idea why the PBSG were permitted to use 1996 criteria in their 2006 IUCN assessment of polar bears, when new rules for evaluating species were in place by 2001. It’s a bit confusing, I must say.]

2) On top of being told that the IUCN standards committee saw at least four technical problems with the Bayesian model developed by Amstrup and colleagues to predict a dire future for polar bears (which is what got them listed as ‘vulnerable’), the PBSG also acknowledged that there are also problems with the predictions caused by the fact that they do not have reasonable scientific estimates for several large subpopulations (e.g. Kara and Laptev Sea in Russia, Chukchi Sea (Russia/USA), and East Greenland). That’s something they have been denying could be an outcome of the “qualified guess” that constitutes their global population estimate.

These polar bear specialists seem absolutely confident they will be able to generate a solid-enough case and get the IUCN assessment they want by June of next year — despite the issues raised about the models, the missing population estimates and the sea ice prediction problems I discussed yesterday — and regardless of the fact that the bears are doing quite well right nowThey seem to feel it is their job to make sure polar bears retain their listing of ‘vulnerable’/’threatened.’

I tell you, if that attitude doesn’t open a few eyes about the odd version of science these conservation biologists practice, I don’t know what will.

[more tomorrow]

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