Tag Archives: ESA

Published essay: the conservation fiasco that is the ESA listing of polar bears

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.

Conservation Fiasco_lead photo_WINTER 2017 RANGE

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).

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Scientists and media continue to spread misinformation about polar bears & walrus

“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).

Churchill polar bear and walrus 2017

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Breaking: Pacific walrus is not threatened with extinction says US Fish & Wildlife

“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).

Walrus female Point Lay Alaska_Ryan Kingsbery USGS

“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.”

UPDATES below:

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Pacific walrus haulout two weeks early, US gov’t agency blames “earliest” ice loss

Walrus 2012 July USGSThis year’s baseless media frenzy over walrus survival and loss of summer sea ice blamed on human-caused global warming was initiated by a press release from US Fish and Wildlife last week (16 August 2017, pdf here: “Pacific walruses haul out near Point Lay earlier than in previous years“). Quote below, my bold:

In the first week of August, several hundred Pacific walruses were observed on a barrier island near the Native Village of Point Lay, a small, Iñupiaq community on the northwest coast of Alaska. This is the earliest date yet for the haulout to form…This year, sea ice has retreated beyond the continental shelf earlier than in previous years

But is this all true? In a word, no — and it didn’t take much research to uncover the truth.

UPDATE 24 August 2017: A few minutes after this post was published, I became aware that just yesterday, 20 conservation activist organizations, lead by the Center for Biological Diversity (who led the polar bear listing charge) issued a press release regarding a letter (pdf here) pressuring the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list Pacific walrus as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Apparently, a decision must be made by the end of September on whether to actively list walrus or not. The text below has been amended to reflect this development.
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Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon [video]

For more than ten years, we’ve endured the shrill media headlines, the hyperbole from conservation organizations, and the simplistic platitudes from scientists as summer sea ice declined dramatically while polar bear numbers rose.

Now, just in time for International Polar Bear Day, there’s a video that deconstructs the scare. It runs about 8 minutes, written and narrated by me, produced by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon

Update 28 February 2017 See my follow-up post for the science behind the video, featuring a new version of my sea ice/polar bear hypothesis paper, just published (and updated with new data).

Crockford, S.J. 2017 V3. 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

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.

crystalball_468x317_predictions_sq

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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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?

future-of-arctic-species-status-under-trump-presidency-9-nov-2016
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BBC Arctic Live for viewers outside the UK: watch scientist distort polar bear facts

Viewers outside the UK can now watch polar bear scientist Steve Amstrup live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016), state that there are “20,000-25,000” polar bears in the world, almost a full year after the IUCN Red List put the worldwide polar bear population size at 22,000-31,000.

[even though Amstrup (now chief scientist and spokesperson for Polar Bears International) was a co-author of that 2015 Red List report, Wiig et. al. 2015]

bbc-live-ii-fat-polar-bear-03

Watch Steve Amstrup, live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016) state that sea ice is only “usually” present in March/April when females with cubs emerge from their dens to feed – as if there has ever not been sea ice present at this critical time of year!

Watch Amstrup , live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016) not point out that the prediction he was responsible for making in 2007 (that got polar bears listed as ‘threatened’ in the USA) has been a total failure: even though the USGS models predicted that polar bear numbers worldwide would decline by 67% and Western Hudson Bay polar bears (as well as nine others) would be wiped out completely when summer sea ice reached the levels they’ve been at since 2007, he pretends that prediction was scientifically valid.

We’ve had sea ice levels not predicted to occur until 2050 for 8 out of the last 10 years and polar bears are still going strong. If Amstrup had been right about the relationship of summer sea ice and polar bear numbers, there would have been no polar bears in Churchill for the BBC to film this year.

Watch all three hour-long episodes below as these two organization team up to promote fear of future global warming with polar bears (or polar bears, as Humble says it). Decide for yourself if polar bear science is being fairly represented.
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Challenging Alaska polar bear research sound bites and bewildering ESA status

Beaufort Sea male polar bear USGS_2005 Amstrup photo

It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.

I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani.  Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.

I’ve read all the relevant papers in full and I contend that the evidence supports Murkowski’s statement. Schipani is confusing the issue by regurgitating ‘facts’ that don’t tell the truth of the matter. By the sum of accounts, Alaskan polar bear populations are indeed healthy and strong – whether or not this status will continue is an entirely different question. Continue reading

Designated critical habitat for Alaskan polar bears offers no protection from thick spring ice deaths

The Obama administration is apparently attempting to overturn a previous ruling that rejected proposed Alaskan “critical habitat” for polar bears in 2013 – as if “critical habitat” would protect the bears from the repeated episodes of thick spring ice that develop in this region every 10 years or so.

Polar_Bear_male on sea ice_Alaska Katovik Regehr photo_April 29, 2005_sm labeled

According to a Reuters report today (5 May 2015):

Seeking to reverse a ruling throwing out its designation of critical habitat for polar bears, the Obama administration has defended its decision to list large swathes of the Arctic as necessary for the conservation of the threatened species.

A coalition of oil industry groups and Alaska Natives, represented by Stoel Rives and Holland & Hart, successfully persuaded the U.S. District Court for Alaska to vacate the government’s polar bear habitat designation in 2013.” [my bold]

If they succeed, it would put most of the north coast of Alaska under special ESA rules, as the map below shows (click to enlarge).

Critical habitat Polar Bears US_NorthSlopeOrg map_labeled_PolarBearScience

As I commented previously, regarding the Obama administration’s recommendation to congress that they approve a proposed Arctic wildlife refuge area on Alaska’s North Slope, this move (if implemented) would not protect polar bears from the starvation deaths due to thick spring ice conditions that have occurred in this region for 2-3 years out of every 10 since 1960 at least.

The other issue is how much additional, biologically meaningful protection a critical habitat designation would provide for Southern Beaufort and Chukchi Sea polar bears – over and above that already provided by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
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