Category Archives: Advocacy

15 years after ESA listing as ‘threatened’ due to sea ice loss polar bears are abundant & thriving

Experts who used the American Endangered Species Act (ESA) to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ in May 2008 were mistaken: sea ice authorities got their predictions wrong about future ice extent and polar bear specialists erroneously declared that two-thirds of polar bears would disappear if summer sea ice declines continued unabated.

By 2007, there was even less summer sea ice than computer models of the day had predicted (Stroeve et al. 2007, see red line on graph below) and in 2012, it dropped to just above 3 mkm2.

Simplified Arctic sea ice predictions vs. observations up to 2007 by Stroeve et al. 2007 (courtesy Wikimedia). Sea ice hit an even lower extent in 2012 and all years since then have been below these predicted levels.

Updated sea ice predictions published in 2014 by the Stroeve team (see below) went to the other extreme, using totally implausible RCP 8.5 scenarios to predict a virtually ice-free Arctic (< 1 mkm2 ice extent) before 2040, which seem just as likely to be just as wrong as their 2007 attempt (Hausfather and Peters 2020; Pielke and Ritchie 2021; Stroeve et al. 2007, 2014; Swart et al. 2015).

From Stoeve et al. 2014, courtesy NSIDC January 2015.

In fact, for 12 years out of the last 15, summer ice extent has been below 5.0 mkm2 (often well below), which polar bear experts had not anticipated would happen until at least 2050 (Amstrup et al. 2006).

In 2012, NOAA sea ice experts summarized this sea ice loss as “reduced by nearly 50%” since 1979:

Despite this dramatic decline in sea ice, polar bears are still abundant and thriving because polar bear specialists got it wrong about the bears’ need for this habitat in summer (Crockford 2017, 2019; Crockford and Geist 2018). Polar bear turned out to be more flexible and resilient than predicted and many subpopulations are better off than before. Davis Strait and Chukchi Sea bears are doing very well: Barents Sea bears in particular are thriving despite by far the most sea ice loss of any Arctic region (e.g. Conn et al. 2021; Frey et al. 2022; Haavik 2022; Lippold et al. 2019; Peacock et al. 2013; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014, 2018, 2021, 2022).

This was not what had been predicted when the bears were listed as ‘threatened’ in 2008.

Conclusion: Despite the Arctic warming four times as fast as the rest of the world with rising CO2 levels and almost 50% less summer ice than there was in 1979, polar bears are no closer to extinction than they were 15 years ago, according to the results of field studies. There is no existential emergency for polar bears or any other Arctic sea mammals due to declining summer sea ice, despite continued messages of doom from remorseless experts.

References

Amstrup, S.C., Marcot, B.G. & Douglas, D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. US Geological Survey. Reston, VA. Pdf here

Conn, P.B., Chernook, V.I., Moreland, E.E., et al. 2021. Aerial survey estimates of polar bears and their tracks in the Chukchi Sea. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0251130. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251130

Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/

Crockford, S.J. 2019. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.

Frey, K.E., Comiso, J.C., Cooper, L.W., et al. 2022. Arctic Ocean primary productivity: the response of marine algae to climate warming and sea ice decline. 2022 NOAA Arctic Report Card, https://doi.org/10.25923/0je1-te61

Haavik, E. 2022. ‘Svalbard’s polar bears persist as sea ice melts — but not forever. The World, 21 July.

Hausfather, Z. and Peters, G.P. 2020. Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading [“Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy”]. Nature 577: 618-620. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00177-3

Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., et al. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995.

Pielke, R., and Ritchie, J. 2021. How climate scenarios lost touch with reality. Issues in Science and Technology 37(4): 74-83. https://issues.org/climate-change-scenarios-lost-touch-reality-pielke-ritchie/

Pielke Jr, R., and Ritchie, J. 2021. Distorting the view of our climate future: The misuse and abuse of climate pathways and scenarios. Energy Research & Social Science72: 101890. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2214629620304655

Regehr, E.V., Laidre, K.L, Akçakaya, H.R., Amstrup, S.C., Atwood, T.C., Lunn, N.J., Obbard, M., Stern, H., Thiemann, G.W., & Wiig, Ø. 2016. Conservation status of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to projected sea-ice declines. Biology Letters 12: 20160556. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/12/20160556 Supplementary data here.

Rode, K.D., Regehr, E.V., Douglas, D., et al. 2014. Variation in the response of an Arctic top predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. Global Change Biology 20(1):76-88. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12339/abstract

Rode, K.D., Olson, J., Eggett, D., et al. 2018. Den phenology and reproductive success of polar bears in a changing climate. Journal of Mammalogy 99(1):16-26. here.

Rode, K. D., Regehr, E.V., Bromaghin, J. F., et al. 2021. Seal body condition and atmospheric circulation patterns influence polar bear body condition, recruitment, and feeding ecology in the Chukchi Sea. Global Change Biology 27:2684–2701. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15572

Rode, K.D., Douglas, D.C., Atwood, T.C., et al. 2022. Observed and forecasted changes in land use by polar bears in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, 1985-2040. Global Ecology and Conservation 40: e02319. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2022.e02319

Stroeve, J., Holland, M.M., Meier, W., Scambos, T. and Serreze, M. 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast. Geophysical Research Letters 34:L09501. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2007GL029703

Stroeve, J.C., Markus, T., Boisert, L., et al. 2014. Changes in Arctic melt season and implications for sea ice loss. Geophysical Research Letters 10.1002/2013GL058951. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2013GL058951

Swart, N.C., Fyfe, J.C., Hawkins, E. et al. 2015. Influence of internal variability on Arctic sea ice trends. Nature Climate Change 5:86-89.

Published field study observations – not population size – prove polar bears are thriving

There is irrefutable evidence from Barents and Chukchi Sea subpopulations, among others, that polar bears are fat and reproducing well despite marked declines in summer sea ice over the last two decades. These indicators of physical and reproductive health, in any species, are signs of thriving populations. However, these facts negate the premise that polar bears require abundant summer sea ice to flourish, and that creates a problem for polar bear specialists who continue to make that claim (Amstrup et al. 2007; Crockford 2017, 2019).

Enormously fat Chukchi Sea polar bear, USFWS.

In other words, the assessment that polar bears are currently thriving is not based solely on estimates of a slight increase in global population size but on published data gathered from field studies on the bears’ physical and reproductive health.

Oddly, biologists repeatedly turn to data from Western Hudson Bay to drive home to the public their preferred message that polar bear health and abundance are being negatively affected by recent summer sea ice declines. However, they fail to mention that robust field data from many other regions, including the Barents and Chukchi Seas, support the opposite conclusion. Moreover, wherever possible, they mumble under their breath (or leave out entirely) the fact that poor ice conditions could not be blamed for a 27% decline in polar bear numbers in Western Hudson Bay since 2016 — because their own data showed sea ice conditions had been strong!

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Emperor penguin ESA listing in 2022 used Antarctic sea ice models known to be flawed

While Arctic sea ice has declined remarkably since 1979, Antarctic ice has been unexpectedly stable. Experts acknowledge that existing climate models–which assume that CO2 emissions drive global sea ice loss–had predicted Antarctic sea ice would have declined over the last several decades–and would decline even more in the future. They’ve finally admitted they were wrong.

John Turner (British Antarctic Survey) and Josifino Comiso (NASA) in a NATURE paper in 2017:

Current climate models struggle to simulate the seasonal and regional variability seen in Antarctic sea ice.

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Lomborg responds to polar bear abundance challenge

Money quote from Bjorn Lomborg’s response to being ‘fact-checked’ on polar bear numbers, Wall Street Journal, 26 January 2023:

It does more good for polar bears, and the rest of us, if those trying to help them use accurate facts.”

Lomborg responds himself after I challenged the ‘fact-checkers’ last week:

Relying on the data I referenced used to be uncontroversial. When a CNN science journalist did an investigation similar to AFP’s in 2008, he spoke to numerous scientists and they agreed “that polar bear populations have, in all likelihood, increased in the past several decades.” When polar bears in 2008 were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the decision noted that the population “has grown from a low of about 12,000 in the late 1960’s to a current worldwide estimate of 20,000-25,000.” The data here haven’t changed, only the media’s willingness to disregard annoying facts.

The result is that the public is denied access to accurate data and open debate about these very important topics. Ridiculous points on one side are left standing while so-called fact-checking censors inconvenient truths. If we’re to make good climate policy, voters need a full picture of the facts. Lomborg 2023, backup link

I would add this fact: in 1982, polar bears were listed by the IUCN as ‘vulnerable’ but by 1996, that had changed to ‘lower risk/conservation dependent’–now called ‘least concern‘ (see screencap below) because population numbers had rebounded after more than 20 years of international protection from over-hunting. The reversion to ‘vulnerable’ in 2006 was based entirely on predictions that population numbers would decline in the future due to see ice loss, which so far has not happened (Crockford 2017, 2019; Crockford and Geist 2018).

References

.Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/

Crockford, S.J. 2019. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.

No more WEF backroom deals for Sir David Attenborough?

On the first anniversary of Fallen Icon, I wonder if Sir David has made his last backroom deal? His years of relentless messaging anti-capitalist climate doom seemed like a concerted plan to build a legacy based on something other than smooth talking: I am convinced Attenborough saw the shocking film footage of walrus falling to their deaths presented in the Netflix/WWF extravaganza Our Planet as the leverage he needed to kick-start an aggressive campaign to promote action on climate change and curb capitalism. But it all collapsed at COP26 in 2021 with his failure to make any difference at all.

Attenborough made an on-camera plea in early November 2022 to promote yet another film but he hasn’t been seen in public in ages. After being oddly MIA at the Queen’s funeral last September, he’s apparently not attending the 2023 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this week either, after making a huge splash there in 2019.

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Activist fact-checkers are misleading the public on polar bear numbers

My press release response to activist ‘fact checkers‘ attacking a graph used by Bjorn Lomborg on social media:

Canadian zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford warns that some polar bear specialists are attempting to cast a smoke-screen over the growth of global polar bear numbers.

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Svalbard walrus thrive in the face of sea ice decline, mocking predictions of future catastrophe

The extended visit of an immature male walrus to the UK last month (dubbed ‘Thor’, presumably from Svalbard, Norway) has precipitated the tired and vacuous ‘victim of climate change’ cries from the peanut gallery, including Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute. The facts, however, put all that to rest.

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Inuit in Arctic Canada now observing higher numbers of polar bears, says government report

A 2021 publication by the government of Canada released last month called Species at Risk in Nunavut says the region is “now observing higher numbers of polar bears“, and that management goals are “more focused on maintaining or reducing numbers in communities and in sensitive areas (i.e. bird colonies)“. Local Inuit are said to be “concerned about the increasing number of encounters and property damages” caused by polar bears.

Polar bear in Arviat, Nunavut, 3 October 2022. Chris Mikijuniak photo.

Polar bears in Canada are considered a species of ‘special concern’ (COSEWIC 2018), not threatened as they are in the USA. See the map of Nunavut below.

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Where were the starving W. Hudson Bay polar bears in 2020 if the population had declined by 2021?

Polar bears are supposed to starve before they die, the experts said. They said only a few years ago that dead or emaciated individuals onshore were evidence that many polar bears would soon be dying of starvation out on the sea ice. So, if the Western Hudson Bay (WH) subpopulation had indeed dropped by 27% by late summer 2021 as researchers claimed, where are all the photos of starving bears in the fall of 2020, the year before the count? The photo below of a thin female and cub was taken in late fall of 2021 (the year of the count) by a stationary web cam. In other words, some bears came off the ice without an optimal amount of fat because of poor hunting conditions over the winter but they were still alive. We know that 2020 had the shortest ice-free season in at least 20 years (and no similar images were captured), so bears went into the winter of 2020/2021 in good condition. Ditto for 2017-2019. In contrast to 2021, in 2016 (the year of the previous survey that also indicated a declining population size), bears reportedly came off the ice in good condition.

All I’ve seen are photos of fat bears and fat cubs, even a triplet litter in fall 2020. The shore of WH near Churchill should have been abounding with starving bears in 2020 (and in 2015), if the experts were right about starving bears preceding a population decline. More importantly, where are the studies on food-deprived bears onshore, as were done in the 1980s when WH bears were emaciated and cub survival poor (e.g. Ramsay et al. 1988)? WH bears are being used exclusively to model an implausibly pessimistic future for polar bears across the entire Arctic (Molnar et al. 2010; 2020), which means lack of good science for WH polar bears has big consequences. Covid restrictions in two of those ten years don’t excuse lack of study on this phenomenon.

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W. Hudson Bay polar bear population decline stories are unethical and ignore critical caveats

Canadian government scientists created headline news worldwide last week when they told the media that Western Hudson Bay polar bear numbers appeared to have declined by 27% between 2017 and 2021, based on a survey report that has not been made public. This is called ‘science by press release’. Its practice is rightfully considered unethical, as it is usually associated withpeople promoting scientific ‘findings’ of questionable scientific merit who turn to the media for attention when they are unlikely to win the approval of the professional scientific community.

Not surprisingly, all of the stories stated or implied a strong association between this purported population decline and lack of sea ice due to ‘climate change’. However, sea ice conditions have been particularly good over the last five years–for both freeze-up and breakup dates–calling into question how ‘lack of sea ice’ could possibly be to blame for the apparent decline.

A Reuters story (dated 23 December 2022) admits this is the case and included another critical caveat that only one news outlet I saw bothered to mention, which happened to be BBC News:

Scientists cautioned a direct link between the population decline and sea ice loss in Hudson Bay wasn’t yet clear, as four of the past five years have seen moderately good ice conditions. Instead, they said, climate-caused changes in the local seal population might be driving bear numbers down.

For example, an Associated Press story published the day before (22 December 2022), picked up by many other outlets, did not include these critical pieces of information about recent good sea ice conditions and possible declines in seal abundance.

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