Tag Archives: Amstrup

Photographer’s claims that Inuit hunting is unsustainable are not supported

A campaign by an anti-hunting Norwegian photographer to destroy the market for legally-hunted polar bears in Canada makes a few disturbingly false claims and an article at National Geographic in which he is quoted further distorts the picture of polar bear conservation. I understand that some people object to hunting and wish more people felt like they do – but this sort of argument is unlikely to sway any but the most gullible.

Cover photo Ole J Liodden small web

Norwegian photographer Ole Liodden apparently has a master’s degree in “nature management and environmental policy“. He takes fabulous polar bear pictures (I purchased one of them, above, for the cover of my novel, EATEN) but his crusade to ban hunting and trade in polar bear products world-wide has lead him to misrepresent essential facts, which is no way to win an argument. A National Geographic writer and several polar bear specialists have provided additional spin and used it as an excuse to promote their failed prophesies that polar bears are doomed: “Should polar bear hunting be legal? It’s complicated” (28 May 2019).

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Before National Geographic apologized for hyping the starving polar bear video they exploited it to promote a message of doom

Back in early February this year, National Geographic used their “this is what climate change looks like” video to promote a newly-published polar bear study and endorse conservation activist Steven Amstrup’s debunked and abandoned prediction of polar bear catastrophe due to global warming. Even with this revelation, the starving polar bear video fiasco is not yet over.

Baffin Island starving pb headline_GlobalNews_8 Dec 2017

Polar Bears Really Are Starving Because of Global Warming, Study Shows (National Geographic, 1 February 2018).

The initial focus of the February 2018 National Geographic article was a study published that week by Anthony Pagano and colleagues (Pagano et al. 2018; Whiteman 2018), suggesting that a few polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea were not getting enough to eat in early spring from 2014-2016 (with no reference to sea ice conditions; see my critique of that study here).

Then, Steven Amstrup, spokesman for activist organization Polar Bears International, is quoted as saying (my bold):

“If these results hold up [from Pagano’s study], then it shows that the loss of sea ice may have a bigger impact on the bears than previously thought, said Amstrup, a former USGS polar bear expert. Amstrup’s own 2010 study projected that continued decline in sea ice would reduce the global population of bears by two thirds, to less than 10,000 by 2050.

Seriously, no one except Amstrup and his Polar Bears International fanbase are citing his outlandish 2010 prediction, which is just a rehash of his 2007 USGS internal report and its 2008 journal version (Amstrup 2007, 2008, 2010). Amstrup’s prediction is not only a failure (Crockford 2017, 2018; Crockford and Geist 2018) but it’s been abandoned by his colleagues for vaguer or more moderate predictions of population decline (e.g. Atwood et al. 2015, 2016; Regehr et al. 2016).

National Geographic has now apologized for saying that the emaciated bear in the SeaLegacy video they so heavily promoted was “what climate change looks like” (and replaced the caption with “this is what starvation looks like,” even though there is no evidence the bear was starving from lack of food rather than from severe illness).

But the damage is done. By endorsing the discredited polar bear survival predictions of Amstrup along with the video, National Geographic degraded itself even further in the eyes of rational and informed readers. I’ll have more to say on the SeaLegacy video exploited by National Geographic and its message that starving polar bears are victims of climate change in a subsequent post: we haven’t yet reached the end of this debacle.


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

Amstrup, S.C., Marcot, B.G., Douglas, D.C. 2008. A Bayesian network modeling approach to forecasting the 21st century worldwide status of polar bears. Pgs. 213-268 in Arctic Sea Ice Decline: Observations, Projections, Mechanisms, and Implications, E.T. DeWeaver, C.M. Bitz, and L.B. Tremblay (eds.). Geophysical Monograph 180. American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/180GM14/summary and http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/polar_bears/pubs.html

Atwood, T.C., Marcot, B.G., Douglas,D.C., Amstrup, S.C., Rode, K.D., Durner, G.M. and Bromaghin, J.F. 2015. Evaluating and ranking threats to the long-term persistence of polar bears. USGS Open-File Report 2014–1254. Pdf here.

Atwood, T.C., Marcot, B.G., Douglas, D.C., Amstrup, S.C., Rode, K.D., Durner, G.M. et al. 2016. Forecasting the relative influence of environmental and anthropogenic stressors on polar bears. Ecosphere, 7(6), e01370.

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 2 March 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3 Open access. https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

Crockford, S.J. 2018. State of the Polar Bear Report 2017. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report #29. London. pdf here.

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

Pagano, A.M., Durner, G.M., Rode, K.D., Atwood, T.C., Atkinson, S.N., Peacock, E., Costa, D.P., Owen, M.A. and Williams, T.M. 2018. High-energy, high-fat lifestyle challenges an Arctic apex predator, the polar bear. Science 359 (6375): 568 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8677

Whiteman, J.P. 2018. Out of balance in the Arctic. Science 359 (6375):514-515. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6375/514

Harvey et al. paper becomes the poster child of the reproducibility crisis in science

Josh’s ‘stupidest paper ever’ cartoon is a reminder of the depths to which some people will descend to silence the voices of rational scientific debate just as the authors of the 2018 Harvey et al. BioScience paper qualifies it for the honour of poster child of the reproducibility crisis in science.

Poster Child of the reproducibilty crisis in science

By insisting — repeatedly and as recently as this month — that the information they released as supplementary data (find it here) was all that was used to construct the two figures in the paper (see Rajan and Tol 2018), the authors tacitly admit:

1) the data used to construct the figures were not derived from the methods they said they used

2) the work is not replicable

In other words, it is not science. That surely qualifies the Harvey et al. (2018) paper for the honour of poster child of the reproducibility crisis in science, discussed here and here (Baker 2016; Nosek et al. 2015). It’s an example the public will readily grasp, since the data said to have been used are easily accessible (and understood) by anyone who uses the Internet.

Below is the letter outlining the data release issue sent more than a week ago (18 May 2018) by Dr. Richard Tol, University of Sussex, to the president of the university highest academic authority in the Netherlands, where Jeff Harvey, lead author of the Harvey et al. 2018 BioScience paper, is employed as an academic [h/t R. Tol for the correction]. While Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen [KNAW] in Amsterdam has a clearly stated data sharing policy, it is clearly not being upheld for the Harvey et al. paper — which nullifies the point of having a policy at all.

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IUCN polar bear specialists reject IPCC- supported forecasts of sea ice based on CO2

In case you missed it — or missed the significance of it — polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor correctly pointed out in his recent essay (a response to the New York Times article that appeared Tuesday (10 April) about the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience paper) that the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group have given up using computer models of future sea ice extent based on rising CO2 levels supported by the IPCC.

Polar_Bear_male_Regehr photo_March 21 2010_labeled

Their latest assessment (Regehr et al. 2016) does not link polar bear survival models to climate modeled forecasts of Arctic sea ice decline but rather to an assumption that declines already documented will continue in linear fashion over this century.

This means that CO2 emissions blamed on human fossil fuel use is no longer directly tied to the predicted future decline of polar bear numbers: IUCN polar bear specialists simply assume that sea ice will continue to decline in a linear fashion with no cause attributed to that decline except the broad assumption that anthropogenic climate change is to blame for Arctic sea ice declines since 1979.

No wonder former USGS polar bear biologist Steve Amstrup never refers to this IUCN PBSG study: he and the organization that now employs him, Polar Bears International, are still firmly wedded to the concept that CO2 is the sea ice control knob.

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Less Svalbard polar bear habitat during the early Holocene than now

Svalbard in the western Barents Sea has recently had less sea ice extent than it had in the 1980s, especially in the west and north, but this is not unprecedented.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

New evidence from clams and mussels with temperature-sensitive habitat requirements confirm that warmer temperatures and less sea ice than today existed during the early Holocene period about 10.2–9.2 thousand years ago and between 8.2 and 6.0 thousand years ago (based on radio carbon dates) around Svalbard. Barents Sea polar bears almost certainly survived those previous low-ice periods, as they are doing today, by staying close to the Franz Josef Land Archipelago in the eastern half of the region where sea ice is more persistent.

As this sea ice chart for 18 April 2018 shows, ice this month has been virtually absent from the west and north coasts of the Svalbard Archipelago, while Franz Josef Land to the east is surrounded by highly concentrated pack and land-fast ice.

Barents Sea ice 2018 April 18 NIS

From a new paper by Jan Mangerud and John Svendsen (2018) [my bold]:

Svalbard, located between 74° and 81°N, is the warmest place on Earth at this latitude (Drange et al., 2013). This is because of the North Atlantic Current and large-scale atmospheric circulation which transport warm water and air masses from lower latitudes northwards across the Atlantic and along the coast of Norway to Svalbard (Figure 1). Yet, during the Holocene Thermal Maximum, the climate of Svalbard was considerably warmer than at present.

The transition from Younger Dryas cold to Holocene Thermal Maximum warm conditions took place very rapidly, according to records from nearby Greenland (Taylor et al. 1997), warming in “steps” of about five years each over a period of about 40 years. This was at least as fast, if not faster than, recent Arctic warming between the 1980s and 2015. And since polar bears of the Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic areas appear to have survived this change to Holocence Thermal Maximum conditions, it challenges the notion that recent warming has been (or will be) too fast to allow polar bears to survive without huge changes in their present distribution (Amstrup et al. 2007).
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Polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor on accountability in polar bear science

Polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor emailed me and others his response to the New York Times article that appeared Tuesday (10 April) about the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience paper attacking my scientific integrity. Here it is in full, with his permission, and my comments. Don’t miss the footnote!

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size

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Steve Amstrup is lying to the media about my critique of his 2007 model

Until now, my scientific paper post at PeerJ Preprints for review, about the failure of Steve Amstrup’s 2007 USGS polar bear survival model (Crockford 2017), has been formally ignored by Amstrup and his colleagues. But now Amstrup and his colleagues have taken to lying to the media about my analysis because he can’t refute it in a scholarly manner.

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size

Amstrup was quoted by Erica Goode in her New York Times article on the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience attack paper published Tuesday (10 April 2018: “Climate Change Denialists Say Polar Bears Are Fine. Scientists Are Pushing Back”):

“Dr. Amstrup, however, said that according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the average September sea ice extent for the years 2007 to 2017 was 4.5 million square kilometers, “nowhere near the low levels projected it would be by the middle of the century.”

“To say that we already should have seen those declines now when we’re not early [sic] to the middle of the century yet is absurd,” he said.” [my bold]

And over at the online outlet Mashable (11 April 2018: “Climate scientists fight false polar bear narrative pushed by bloggers”), reporter Mark Kaufman quoted Jeff Harvey, lead author of the BioScience paper on the issue, although Harvey is hardly an authority:

“(Harvey noted Crockford misunderstood and then mischaracterized this prediction).”

Amstrup also presented a lame critique of the portion of my Financial Post 27 February 2018 op-ed that dealt with his 2007 predictions, published 2 March 2018 by Climate Feedback (self-proclaimed “fact checkers”), that is easily refuted because it’s a blatant lie. He’s saying 2015 sea ice models are relevant to his 2007 predictions that used 2005/2006 sea ice models.

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