Global population estimate footnote causes problems for polar bear specialists

Apparently, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) are catching flack over their global polar bear population estimates.

pbsg logo

Global Population Footnote [its own section, Pg. 32-33, of the minutes of the June 2014 meeting (pdf here). Recall my post on the issue here]

Over the years, the global population estimate found in the Proceedings status table has been used and misused by the general public and self-interest groups. Often the global estimate is taken out of context, without reading all the accompanying text, and used to suggest that the numbers of polar bears have been slightly increasing or at least stable over a period in which much has been made of the loss of sea ice habitat.

In an attempt to clarify this, a footnote to the website status table was drafted. This footnote has subsequently been used to suggest that the PBSG does not really know how many polar bears there are and certainly cannot defend the notion that the loss of sea ice has been a threat to the species.

As a result, the global estimate of 20,000-25,000 polar bears is back in the news and has caused problems for the PBSG. The Group should probably reconsider population estimates for data deficient subpopulations for the next status table.

In the meantime, there was considered to be value in drafting an explanation for the global population estimate of 20,000-25,000 for the online status table. It was thought that this would be a better approach than to directly engage those who have been misusing the information.” [my bold]

[As I showed in my post, the text accompanying the PBSG status tables for 2005 and 2009 did not include a clarification of this kind – the only mention of this uncertainty was found in the drafted press release published at the end of the document]

Another statement in the June 2014 minutes caught my eye:

K. Laidre summarized the need for the PBSG to do a better job of communicating accurate and balanced science about polar bears.” Pg. 28

In my next post, I’ll show you how they did on this assignment.


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