Just out this morning:
“Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt unveiled improvements to the implementing regulations of the ESA designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the Act into the 21st century.” USFWS Press Release, 12 August 2019.
Although much hue-and-cry will be written by conservation organizations and the media (here is one), I am providing for easy reference here links to the original press releases and documents issued this morning by the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I am also providing pdf copies of the official documents to appear shortly in the Federal Register and quote the above USFWS press release in full.
It remains to be seen whether polar bears or other Arctic species of interest to me and readers of this blog will be affected. The new changes affect both the listing and delisting process as well as designation of critical habitat.
Posted in Conservation Status
Tagged critical habitat, delisting, development, ecosystems, endangered, environment, ESA, extinction, Federal Register, listing, regulations, rules, species, threatened, Trump
Polar bear habitat update for the first week of August 2019 shows there is still more sea ice than average in Hudson Bay, the southern-most area of continuous habitation for this species. That certainly wasn’t part of the predictions of doom, especially since freeze-up in that region for the last two years has also been earlier-than-average which means a shorter ice-free season than we’ve seen for decades.
Despite ice coverage for the Arctic ice as a whole being marginally lower than it has been since 1979 for this time of year, sea ice for the first week of August was also above average around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and higher than the last few years in the Central Arctic, which is a critical summer refugium for polar bears that live in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi (see photo below, taken in early August 2018).
Posted in Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Central Arctic, Churchill, facts, Hudson Bay, polar bear, prediction, problem bear, range, sea ice, southern, Svalbard, tagged bears
One of two alarming headlines that caught my eye this week was the ‘news’ on Monday that the waters off Alaska were now ice-free because of climate change, courtesy a story in the online media outlet Mashable that was later picked up by The Weather Channel and the UK mainstream paper The Independent. In addition, a large number of mainstream news outlets, including the New York Times and Newsweek, have reported that walruses came ashore this year at Point Lay, Alaska two weeks earlier than any year since 2007.
No one claimed this late July onshore movement of walruses was the beginning of the end of walruses but it was still blamed on human-caused climate change because it was associated with the aforementioned ice loss in Alaska.
Neither event was truly ‘news’. Moreover, neither an ice-free Alaska in early August or walruses onshore two weeks earlier than 2017 will have any negative impact on local polar bear or walrus populations, whether due to human-caused climate change or natural variation. Well-fed polar bears everywhere are quite capable of going 4-5 months without food in the summer and a few thousand walruses at Point Lay will feed happily from this shore-based haulout for a few days to a few weeks as they have done many summers since 2007 before moving on to other Chukchi Sea beach locations – although the ‘leaving’ events never seem to get any media attention. Walruses will haul out on beaches in Alaska and Russia until the ice returns in October.
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Alaska, Chuckchi Sea, climate change, decline, facts, ice loss, ice-free, Point Lay, polar bear, sea ice, walrus
For all the hand-wringing over sea ice extent this year and its supposed similarity to 2012, what is truly remarkable is that at the end of July ice remains adjacent to every single major terrestrial summer refugia known to be important for polar bears. Those refugia sites include (from west to east, starting in the Chukchi Sea): Wrangel Island, western Chukotka, Severnaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, East Greenland, virtually all the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (including Southampton Island in Foxe Basin and the southwest and eastern coasts of Baffin Island), and Western Hudson Bay.
Few bears spend the entire summer onshore along the Alaska coast: most still spend the summer on the sea ice and move with it as it contracts toward the Arctic Basin, as do many bears in the Barents, Kara, East Siberian, and Chukchi Seas. Until a few weeks ago, however, there was enough ice present that Beaufort Sea bears could go ashore if they wanted to do so. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged 2012, Churchill, extent, facts, Hudson Bay, July, onshore, polar bear, problem bears, refugia, sea ice, summer, terrestrial
A polar bear was spotted this year on Bear Island (Bjørnøya) in the southern Barents Sea on 8 March by the crew at the Meteorological Station. The last time these workers had seen a polar bear was 2011 but this year extensive Barents Sea ice literally brought a bear to their doorstep, similar to the way that sea ice brings bears to southern Labrador and Newfoundland in late winter and spring.
After below-average ice cover around Svalbard for most of the winter months of January and February, by early March the ice had expanded so far to the south it reached Bjørnøya. It was the kind of ice that hadn’t been seen in decades and almost immediately, a polar bear was spotted on shore. Given the length of time that the ice surrounding the island persisted, it is likely more bears came ashore but were not seen: the Meteorological Station at the north end of the island is the only place that people live over the winter (see maps below).
Posted in Advocacy, Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Bear Island, Bjørnøya, extent, facts, icebreaker, polar bear, range, sea ice
In late June, one of the most powerful icebreakers in the world encountered such extraordinarily thick ice on-route to the North Pole (with a polar bear specialist and deep-pocketed, Attenborough-class tourists onboard) that it took a day and a half longer than expected to get there. A few weeks later, in mid-July, a Norwegian icebreaker also bound for the North Pole (with scientific researchers on board) was forced to turn back north of Svalbard when it unexpectedly encountered impenetrable pack ice.
A polar bear on hummocked sea ice in Franz Josef Land. Photo by Michael Hambrey, date not specified but estimated based on tour dates to be 22 or 23 June 2019.
Apparently, the ice charts the Norwegian captain consulted showed ‘first year ice‘ – ice that formed the previous fall, defined as less than 2 m thick (6.6 ft) – which is often much broken up by early summer. However, what he and his Russian colleague came up against was consolidated first year pack ice up to 3 m thick (about 10 ft). Such thick first year ice was not just unexpected but by definition, should have been impossible.
Ice charts for the last few years that estimate actual ice thickness (rather than age) show ice >2 m thick east and/or just north of Svalbard and around the North Poie is not unusual at this time of year. This suggests that the propensity of navigational charts to use ice ‘age’ (e.g. first year vs. multi-year) to describe ice conditions could explain the Norwegian captain getting caught off-guard by exceptionally thick first year ice. It also provides an explanation for why the polar bear specialist onboard the Russian icebreaker later failed to explain that first year ice of such shocking thickness was truly extraordinary, not just a bit thicker than usual.
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, extent, first year ice, Franz Josef Land, ice age, icebreaker, North Pole, polar bear, sea ice, Svalbard, thick ice, thin ice
In the course of a manhunt for two murder suspects wanted in British Columbia, Royal Canadian Mounted Police posted a photo of a fat polar bear they spotted about 200 km north of Gillam, Manitoba.
This fat bear – as would any others that might be spotted in the area – is a pregnant female from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation intent on finding a secure place to dig a den in the permafrost where she can stay cool over the summer and give birth this winter.
However, true to form, The Guardian (28 July 2019) ludicrously suggests those on the hunt for the murder suspects are now at risk of a polar bear attack:
The threat of a polar bear attack has become a reality for the huge Canadian police and military contingent searching for the teenage duo suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, his US girlfriend and a university botanist.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks
Tagged denning, dens, fat bears, Gillam, Hudson Bay, manhunt, Manitoba, maternity den, polar bear, pregnant, Wapusk National Park