Yesterday, two polar bear specialists and an inept freelance journalist poured gasoline on the already-volatile issue of polar bear management in Nunavut.
Quote of the day: “I think there’s a reasonable chance that the last polar bear in Canada will be shot by an Inuk hunter.” [Andrew Derocher, University of Alberta]
You have to read it to believe how bad the Yale Environment 360 article by Gloria Dickie (19 December 2018) really is: “As polar bear attacks increase in the Arctic, a search for solutions.” [reprinted 26 December at PBS] The title suggests a balanced treatment of the issue but the reality is far from that: gross inaccuracies in the descriptions of the two fatal attacks that took place this summer that can only be explained by sloppy research and what struck me as unbelievably nasty and racist commentary by polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher. But decide for yourself.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Polar bear attacks, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, fatal, insult, Inuit, Nunavut, polar bear, problem bears, racist, sea ice, Wilder
At recent meeting of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), biologists decided to continue to list the polar bear as a species of ‘Special Concern.’ About 2/3 of the world’s polar bears live in Canada and the balance of all evidence (including Inuit knowledge) indicate the bears are not threatened with extinction. The bears have held this status since 1991.
Details from the 3 December 2018 press release below.
In the news today: “Nunavut Draft Plan Says There Are Actually Too Many Polar Bears In Territory” (CTV News via The Canadian Press, Bob Weber, 12 November 2018).
Polar bear eating seaweed near Churchill, Manitoba (November 2012). Lorraine Brandson photo.
From the Canadian Press story:
“There are too many polar bears in parts of Nunavut and climate change hasn’t yet affected any of them, says a draft management plan from the territorial government that contradicts much of conventional scientific thinking.
The proposed plan — which is to go to public hearings in Iqaluit on Tuesday — says that growing bear numbers are increasingly jeopardizing public safety and it’s time Inuit knowledge drove management policy.
“Inuit believe there are now so many bears that public safety has become a major concern,” says the document, the result of four years of study and public consultation.”
I’ve noted previously that there were two fatal polar bear attacks in Hudson Bay this summer. Both of them happened outside local communities and both happened early during the ice-free period (when bears would have been onshore for only a few weeks). Neither incident can be reasonably blamed on lack of sea ice, an extended ice-free period, or lack of management of problem polar bears within or near communities. The bears involved in the August attack were described as being in good condition.
Update 13 November 2018: See The Guardian‘s take on this story, by a different writer. Despite potential to talk to other polar bear specialists about this issue, only Derocher is quoted. Is no one else talking? “Polar bear numbers in Canadian Arctic pose threat to Inuit, controversial report says” (The Guardian, 13 November 2018).
Update 14 November 2018: See a new CBC story on Inuit perspectives on this issue. “Nunavut community says Inuit lives need to be protected over polar bear population” (CBC News, 14 November 2018).
Posted in Conservation Status, Polar bear attacks, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, climate change, Derocher, Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay, hunting, Inuit, management, polar bear, problems, sea ice, too many bears
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
Are polar bears in decline or not? Who is to blame for the fact that there is no clear answer about how polar bears are doing? Apparently, everyone except polar bear specialists are at fault for the way polar bear issues have been handled in recent years (including me), at least according to one northern journalist.
Back in February, I wrote a rather critical review of an exclusive interview with polar bear researcher Ian Stirling that was published in the February issue of UpHere Magazine called, He speaks for the polar bears – with this lede under the title:
“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”
I said “Yeah, well – judge for yourself,” and pointed out some rather critical inaccuracies and obfuscations in Stirling’s answers that I backed up with references.
Well, the editor of that magazine, Tim Edwards, emailed me a few days later and said:
“...we wanted to try to clarify the issues and just talk hard science, no rhetoric. Lo and behold, we’re learning that even his opinion is by no means universally agreed-upon. So thank you for your criticism.”
In May, I was contacted by UpHere writer Dan Campbell, who spoke to me several times before writing this month’s article (15 July 2016), Lost in the numbers: The polar bear is getting more attention than ever, but that may be harming the animal more than helping. Have a look and decide if it clarifies any of the polar bear issues for you. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged advocacy, ethics, facts, interview, Inuit, Lost in the numbers, polar bear, sea ice, sound science, Stirling, threatened, traditional knowledge, UpHere
Apparently, some biologists think that outputs from complex computer models will convince native Arctic residents that invasive mark-recapture work has no long-term effect on the health and well-being of polar bears.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Amstrup, Bromaghin, Government of Nunavut, handling, Inuit, invasive research, mark-recapture, models, observations, Peacock, polar bear, Rode, satellite collars, tranquilizer drugs
Slowly but surely, word is leaking out: the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population is stable at ~1000 bears, confirming the good news contained in maps posted on the Environment Canada website a few months ago (discussed by me here and here). Environment Canada has apparently been giving presentations in local Western Hudson Bay communities relaying their decision.
Courtesy IUCN PBSG
Yesterday, a press release was issued by one of the official Inuit organizations in Nunavut announcing the new official status of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population.