Category Archives: Conservation Status

Polar bears that didn’t die from recent sea ice loss will die in 35 yrs, say ‘sperts

Yesterday, the DailyMail (among others) was suckered into running virtually the same story The Guardian (among others) hyped last year about this time.

Using a science journal version of the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment report, polar bear data collectors and their fortune-teller colleagues have managed to get polar bears back in the news.

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I wrote about this last year – it’s actually good news, although you wouldn’t know it from the headlines.

Let me paraphrase the ‘sperts:

“After 10 years of ice conditions we didn’t expect would happen until mid-century (a worst-case scenario we said would cause more than 30% of the world’s polar bears to die – except they didn’t), we have now determined (using a new model and a brand new definition of sea ice specific to polar bears) that by mid-century, there is only a 70% chance that 30% of polar bears will die.”

This is how they explain away all the bears that didn’t die as they should have when summer sea ice declined to about 5 mkm2 and below after 2006.

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An El Niño year late start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay: bears gearing up to hunt

There is no serious ice on the west shore of Hudson Bay yet (as the map below shows) but the winds have just shifted – instead of coming from the south, they are now blowing in from the north.

Freeze-up and a resumption of seal hunting for Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears looks imminent. The bears get out on the ice as soon as they are physically able, when the ice is about 3-4 inches thick (about 10 cm).

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I’m going to let Kelsey Eliasson from PolarBearAlley, on shore at Churchill, convey the gist of the freeze-up situation on the Bay.

Recall that freeze-up was late in both 1998 and 1999 – during the height of that strong El Niño warmth as well as the year following. Continue reading

No correlation between freeze-up dates for Hudson Bay & total Arctic ice cover

Guess which year between 2006 and 2016 had the latest start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay, given that 2012 had the lowest September average and 2007 and 2016 tied for second-lowest (see graph below, from NSIDC), and that sea ice in the Arctic right now is the lowest it’s been for this date since 1979?

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If you guessed anything other than 2010, you guessed wrong – in addition, 2006 (not 2016) was second latest.

There is no correlation between Arctic sea ice coverage and freeze-up dates for Western Hudson Bay.

Yet, Polar Bears International (“Save Our Sea Ice”) –  who were surely in and around Churchill in 2010 and 2006 watching polar bears – just posted an alarming statement about local conditions, implying that slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay this year is a reflection of the fact that “sea ice is at a record low across the Arctic.”

They also claim that “…the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year.” That may be true, but if so, it is also meaningless with respect to the progress of freeze-up.

Does no one at PBI remember the very late freeze-up of 2010 or 2006? Odd, that.

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Will Trump reverse ESA decisions listing polar bears & Arctic seals as threatened?

The New York Times reported this morning: “Donald Trump Is Elected President in Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment.”

I’ve never been very interested in politics but this result has me wondering. Could the new president reverse the Endangered Species Act (ESA) decisions listing polar bears and other species as ‘threatened’ with extinction due to future threats from global warming?

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IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group website still silent on 2015 Red List assessment

It’s now been 11 months since the IUCN Red List announced the completion of a new conservation assessment for polar bears – but you wouldn’t know that if you visited the website of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).

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Back in May 2016, I wrote to the folks at the IUCN Red List asking them why the PBSG had not yet added a link to their website regarding the 19 November 2015 update to the Red List polar bear assessment (submitted by PBSG members in July 2015), a shortcoming I first notice in December 2015. I also inquired why the IUCN Red List folks were not taking the PBSG to task for their failure to keep the public informed of this new development.

After a wait of more than 6 weeks (23 June), I finally received a reply. The Red List official accepted as reasonable the PBSG excuse that since a link to the IUCN Red List was present on their home page as an icon (here), a direct link to the actual Red List polar bear assessment was not necessary. He was informed by the PBSG that the website upgrade had simply taken longer than expected but that it would be completed by the end of July.

And yet, here it is – almost three months later and still no revised website – and more importantly, still no mention of the 2015 Red List assessment update, see screencap above taken 18 October 2016 (which has been up since 14 January 2016).

Note that my complaint is not that the website upgrade has taken longer than expected (doesn’t it always?) – it’s about the continued refusal to provide a simple link to the 2015 Red List assessment at the top of their “News” feature which sits prominently on their home page.

The PBSG is considered the scientific authority on polar bears and in my opinion, the fact that for 11 months their website has lacked a link to the 2015 Red List assessment (which contains many significant changes, including a larger population estimate, a revised population trend, and a prediction of future change with error bars) raises concerns about transparency, potential bias, and lack of accountability of the PBSG organization – and displays a similar kind of contempt for the public that its chairman revealed back in 2014 when he said that population size estimates were “simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”

Copies of my email exchange with the Red List associate who answered my inquiry are below – decide for yourself if I’m over-reacting.

UPDATE 22 Nov. 2016: A cursory check of the PBSG website today revealed that a few days ago (16 Nov. 2016) the PBSG Chairman finally did what I have been suggesting for almost a year: post a simple notice and link to the 2015 IUCN Red List polar bear assessment.

A simple line in the NEWS section of the home page:

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They even added a short notice with links to the documents (screen cap below).

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Yes, pretty much exactly what I suggested in January. I’d hazard a guess I wasn’t the only one complaining.

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New ecology book: 25 MYTHS THAT ARE DESTROYING THE ENVIRONMENT

Veteran Yale University research ecologist Dan Botkin has a new book coming out tomorrow (Saturday 15 October) that you might want to look at:

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A number of chapters are relevant to polar bears, including these three:

“Myth 11: Without Human Interference, Earth’s Climate is Stable”

“Myth 13: Climate Change Will Lead to Huge Numbers of Extinctions”

“Myth 25: Compared to Climate Change, All Other Environmental Issues Are Minor”

I found the book clearly written in a readable style (Table of Contents here). It provides timely insight into critical issues related to conservation and species extinction, with many real-world examples that counter theoretical assumptions (polar bears are discussed in the Overview). I found the energy issues (Myths 23 and 24) an awkward distraction but others might find them of interest. It’s a good companion to Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist (an excellent reference from 2001 but much more detailed).

Pre-0rders now being taken:

Twenty-five Myths That Are Destroying the Environment: What Many Environmentalists Believe and Why They Are Wrong. Daniel B. Botkin 2017. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, MD 20706. $12.71 PAPERBACK; $7.51 KINDLE

Peak inside via Amazon, more about Dan Botkin and his publication record, and the book below.

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Arctic sea ice grows & Churchill polar bears into their 4th month of fasting

A quiet year for problems in the polar bear capital of the world (Churchill, Manitoba) so far – despite this year tying for the second-lowest minimum since 1979 – and the ice is growing fast. In fact, Arctic ice growth in the second half of September was rapid and there is now more ice than there was at this date in 2007 and 2012 (when polar bears in those regions considered most at risk did not die off in droves).

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Pessimistic polar bear specialists are wrong  – polar bears are much more resilient to low sea ice levels in summer than they assume: their own data from low summer ice years proves it.  If you’ll recall from my previous post, polar bears seem to have barely survived the extensive sea ice coverage during the Last Glacial Maximum – in other words, too much ice (even over the short term) is their biggest threat. Polar bear numbers, as confirmed by the latest estimates in the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment, are higher now than they have been since the 1960s, despite almost 10 years of summer sea ice minimums below 5.0 mk2.

Churchill Polar Bear Alert reports and Arctic sea ice comparisons at this date, in detail below.

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