Why is polar bear conservation such a contentious issue?

Are polar bears in decline or not? Who is to blame for the fact that there is no clear answer about how polar bears are doing? Apparently, everyone except polar bear specialists are at fault for the way polar bear issues have been handled in recent years (including me), at least according to one northern journalist.

UpHere Magazine_July 2016 cover cropped

Back in February, I wrote a rather critical review of an exclusive interview with polar bear researcher Ian Stirling that was published in the February issue of UpHere Magazine called, He speaks for the polar bears – with this lede under the title:

“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”

I said “Yeah, well – judge for yourself,” and pointed out some rather critical inaccuracies and obfuscations in Stirling’s answers that I backed up with references.

Well, the editor of that magazine, Tim Edwards, emailed me a few days later and said:

“...we wanted to try to clarify the issues and just talk hard science, no rhetoric. Lo and behold, we’re learning that even his opinion is by no means universally agreed-upon. So thank you for your criticism.”

In May, I was contacted by UpHere writer Dan Campbell, who spoke to me several times before writing this month’s article (15 July 2016), Lost in the numbers: The polar bear is getting more attention than ever, but that may be harming the animal more than helping. Have a look and decide if it clarifies any of the polar bear issues for you.

Here’s some bits (my bold):

“Humanity’s relationship with polar bears is complex. There are those people, far away from the North, who will never see one in their lifetime but have stuffed bears and picture books of them in their homes; there are the scientists who study the bears and influence policy; there are the bureaucrats and politicians who write laws; and there are the Inuit who hunt the bears. And for a while, they all got along well enough.

But as times changed, other actors entered the stage with loud voices. Scientists said climate change was threatening polar bears by degrading their habitat of sea ice. Climate change activists latched on and adopted the polar bear as the mascot of a warming world. Animal rights activists took it a step further and said the bears were under threat and that they should be classified as such, with legal ramifications for hunting them.

But Crockford’s main criticisms seem more ideologically-driven. She is skeptical of human-caused global warming, and that feeds into her tireless venture of disputing polar bear researchers who contend climate change is a threat to the bears.”

Read the rest here.
Two points.
1) Ian Stirling was publicly blaming climate change for declining numbers and poor body condition of Western Hudson Bay polar bears way back in 1999 (and may have been doing so privately for years) – he was one of the early “scientists” who said that declining sea ice due to climate change was threatening polar bears:

Stirling, I., Lunn, N.J. and Iacozza, J. 1999. Long-term trends in the population ecology of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay in relation to climate change. Arctic 52:294-306.

2) My “ideology” is good, sound science: that’s what drives me. Campbell refers to me as “an adjunct professor” but leaves out the fact that I’m a professional zoologist with a Ph.D., just like Ian Stirling (perhaps he didn’t want to make me sound qualified to make scientific criticisms).

But know this: I would have had nothing to criticize if Stirling and his colleagues had not glossed over the massive drop in Southern Beaufort polar bear numbers in 1974-1976 because of thick spring ice,  which happened again in 2004-2006  (a fact well documented in the literature), and then implied (by the use of careful wording) that the 2004-2006 event was caused by the loss of summer sea ice due to human-caused global warming. [That isn’t the only skirting of ethical practices they’ve done over the years but it was the worst, as far as I’m concerned – and they’re still doing it]

It made me cringe in embarrassment that fellow scientists would do such a thing. What ethical scientist wouldn’t?

So I did something about it. And here we are – the start of year 5 for this blog.

Postscript: Funny that Campbell didn’t mention I’m also the author of a fabulously scary, science-based, polar bear attack thriller that is selling exceptionally well. Odd, that.


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