New Scientist has an article coming out next week takes a fairly reasoned approach to the polar bear conservation issue. It acknowledges that polar bear numbers have not declined in recent years even though summer sea ice dropped dramatically but goes on to perpetuate a number of myths that might not have happened if the author had done his homework or quizzed his other experts as thoroughly as he did me.
The survivors: is climate change really killing polar bears? Rapid global warming is said to be ringing the death knell for polar bears, by melthing their icy hunting grounds. But the reality is more complex. Fred Pearce, New Scientist 10 February 2018. Online now.
Posted in Conservation Status, Hybridization, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged climate change, conservation, extinction, global warming, grizzly, grolar, hungry, hybrid, Pearse, pizzly, polar bear, population size, sea ice, starving, survivors
Optimism in conservation science — which the Smithsonian says we desperately need (Earth Optimism Summit 21-23 April 2017, apparently a huge success) — means it’s time to acknowledge and celebrate real conservation success stories. The Smithsonian folks probably won’t say it but I will — one of those successes is the recovery of polar bears.
It’s time to abandon the focus on prophesies of impending loss and accept that recovery of polar bears from the over-hunting of last century has continued despite a decade of low summer sea ice (Aars et al. 2017; Crockford 2017; Dyck et al. 2017; SWG 2016; York et al. 2016). Why not focus on the numerous images of fat, healthy bears rather than the anomalous starving ones?
It’s time to let go of imagined future catastrophes based on pessimistic failures of adaptation (Amstrup et al. 2007, 2008; Atwood et al. 2016; Stirling and Derocher 2012) and acknowledge that polar bears and Arctic seals, just like Pacific walrus (MacCracken et al. 2017; US Fish & Wildlife Service 2017), are resilient species with adaptive capabilities we are are only just beginning to comprehend (Crawford and Quakenbush 2013; Crawford et al. 2015; Escajeda et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014; Stirling and Lunn 1997; Stirling et al. 1975a; Vibe 1965). Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Summary
Tagged abundance, conservation, facts, observations, optimism, populations, save the polar bear, science, sea ice, success, walrus
In early October, the US Fish & Wildlife Service reversed its 2011 decision to list Pacific walrus as ‘threatened with extinction’, saying they could not “determine with certainty that walruses are likely to become endangered “in the foreseeable future.” [details below]
I have argued that the 2008 decision by the USFWS to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ is similarly lacking in certainty (Crockford 2017) and as for walrus, the previous determination of ‘threatened’ for polar bears was premature and should be reversed.
A prominent biology colleague and I recently put it this way in a newly published essay:
“Is it ethical or fair to the many citizens impacted directly and indirectly by the 2008 polar bear ruling for the FWS to allow polar bears to remain on the Endangered Species List?”
Read our piece in the winter 2018 issue of RANGE Magazine (open access), authored by myself and Dr. Valerius Geist, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Calgary, Alberta.
Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.
PS. You’ll find an excellent piece on wildfires by biologist Jim Steele in the same issue.
See also 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
Details on the USFWS decision on the walrus is below. Note that like the walrus, if ESA protection on the polar bear was reversed, the bears would still be strongly protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (as they have been since 1972), and like the walrus, polar bears have shown an ability to adapt that was not foreseen in 2007 (as evidenced by their failure to die off droves in response to recent sea ice declines).
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged conservation, endangered, ESA, essay, global warming, polar bear, sea ice loss, threatened, USFWS, walrus
Just in time for Polar Bears International’s self-proclaimed fall Polar Bear Week (5-11 November 2017), here’s a new resource for cooling the polar bear spin. I’ve updated my 2015 summary of reasons not to worry about polar bears, which is now more than two years old. In this new version, you will find links to supporting information, including published papers and fully referenced blog posts of mine that provide background, maps and bibliographies, although some of the most important graphs and maps have been reproduced here. I hope you find it a useful resource for refuting the pessimism and prophecies of catastrophe about the future of polar bears. Please feel free to share it.
As global leaders meet in Bonn for COP23 (6-17 November 2017), it’s time to celebrate the proven resilience of polar bears to their ever-changing Arctic environment.
Twenty Reasons: the bullet points
- Polar bears are still a conservation success story: there are more polar bears now than there were 40 years ago.
- Fewer populations are in decline than in 2010 (only one, officially) and only six are data deficient (down from nine).
- Abrupt summer sea ice decline has not affected polar bear numbers as predicted: even though sea ice levels dropped to mid-century levels in 2007, the expected decimation of polar bears failed to occur.
- The Chukchi Sea population is thriving despite a pronounced lengthening of the ice-free season since 2007.
- Less sea ice in the summer in the Chukchi Sea has meant a healthy prey base for polar bears because ringed seals feed primarily in the ice-free season.
- Polar bears have shown themselves to be adaptable to changing ice conditions in several regions.
- Southern Beaufort numbers have rebounded since the last survey count.
- Barents Sea numbers have probably increased since 2005 and have definitely not declined despite much less sea ice cover.
- There is no evidence that record-low summer sea ice in 2012 had a harmful effect on Southern Beaufort bear numbers.
- Other species are being negatively impacted by high polar bear numbers, especially nesting sea birds and ducks.
- Western Hudson Bay population numbers have been stable since 2004, despite what scientists are telling the media.
- Hudson Bay sea ice has not changed since about 1999: breakup dates and freeze-up dates are highly variable but the ice-free period was not any longer in 2015 than it was in 2004. However, this fall freeze-up is shaping up to be the earliest in decades.
- Problem bears in Churchill are not lean or starving.
- Churchill Manitoba had the most problem bears in 1983 and 2016, which were late freeze-up years, but many of the incidents in 2016 can be attributed to increased vigilance on the part of patrol officers after an attack in 2013.
- There have been only marginal sea ice declines during the feeding period in spring, when polar bears need sea ice the most.
- The is no evidence that subsistence hunting is affecting bear populations.
- Stressful research methods have been curtailed in much of Canada.
- There have been no reports of polar bear cannibalism since 2011.
- Polar bears appear unaffected by pollution: studies suggest only that harm is theoretically possible, not that it has happened.
- Polar bears have survived past warm periods, which is evidence they have the ability to survive future warm periods.
- Polar bears are thriving: they are not currently threatened with extinction.
- Tens of thousands of polar bears did not die as a result of more than a decade of low summer sea ice, as was predicted.
- Polar bears don’t need sea ice in late summer/early fall as long as they are well-fed in the spring.
[full text below, pdf with footnotes and references here]
“Lies” might be a better word to characterize the misinformation that scientists and the media have been busy spreading to the public over the last few weeks. The information is either known to be false (by scientists whose job it is to relay facts honestly) or is easily shown to be false (by journalists whose job it is to fact-check their stories).
Posted in Advocacy, Population, walrus
Tagged conservation, ESA, estimates, ethics, journalist, polar bear, population, scientist, sea ice, status, threatened, USFWS, walrus, western hudson bay
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they cannot determine with certainty that walruses are likely to become endangered “in the foreseeable future,” which the agency defines as the year 2060.”
(CBC, 4 October 2017).
“The agency said in 2011 that walruses deserve the additional protection of being declared threatened, but delayed a listing because other species were a higher priority.
The agency revised the decision based on new information, said Patrick Lemons, the agency’s marine mammals management chief.
“Walrus demonstrated much more ability to change their behaviours than previously thought,” Lemons said. Their ability to rest on shorelines before swimming to foraging areas makes the threat of less sea ice uncertain, he added.”
I did considerable research on polar bear attacks for my thriller of a novel EATEN — which many readers are finding a welcome change from the numbers-and-statistics approach of science — and I have to say that a recently published scientific summary of this phenomenon (1880-2014) authored by biologist James Wilder and colleagues left me speechless (Wilder et al. 2017).
with permission, see EATEN cover.
By attempting to generate information that could be assessed with statistical methods, the authors ended up with data that is so skewed and incomplete that it fails to provide a plausible assessment of the risk to humans of attacks by polar bears. In my opinion, acknowledging that well-reported attacks on Europeans (or recorded by them) make up the bulk of the data used in the paper does not adequately address the weakness of the authors’ conclusions that attacks by polar bears are “extremely rare.”
The paper also focuses much attention on the potential for increases in polar bear attacks on humans due to sea ice loss (blamed on global warming) but ignores totally the increased risk stemming from the larger proportion of adult males that now exist in protected populations. Adult males frequently steal the kills of younger bears and in recovering (i.e. growing) populations, relatively more adult males potentially generate more young males that are nutritionally stressed and at risk of attacking humans (see discussion below).
Finally, no supplementary data is provided to show which records of attacks were included in the study, and no information is provided about how to access the database. How is that possible in this day and age?
Much is made in the paper of the negative effect of polar bear attacks on conservation objectives and the perceived increase in attacks associated with recent sea ice loss. These points were picked up by activist organization Polar Bears International (“Save Our Sea Ice!“) in a press release issued yesterday (11 July, pdf here). This has already generated the desired media attention (here and here, likely more to follow, like this) which is predictably focused on predictions of more polar bear attacks on humans due to global warming.
I have a feeling Inuit and other native inhabitants of the Arctic will not be impressed.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, conflicts, conservation, database, fatal, history, human-polar bear conflicts, hungry, injuries, Inuit, polar bear, Polar Bear-Human Information Management System, skewed data, starving, Wilder, York