Tag Archives: IUCN

Newly-discovered SE Greenland polar bear subpopulation: another assumption proven false

Researchers have discovered that the 300 or so polar bears living in SE Greenland (below 64 degrees N) are so genetically distinct and geographically isolated that they qualify as a unique subpopulation, adding one more to the 19 subpopulations currently described by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.

NASA photo, SE Greenland glacier-front habitat with a polar bear and two cubs.

Previously, polar bear researchers simply assumed all of the bears in East Greenland were part of the same subpopulation but no field work had been conducted in the extreme southern area until 2015-2017. When they included this region, they got a big surprise: now they are spinning it as significant for polar bear conservation (Laidre et al. 2022).

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Archive of IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group status and meeting reports back to 1965

The IUCN/SCC Polar Bear Specialist Group have recently modernized their website, which apparently required them to remove all meeting reports and status documents going back to 1968. Since I had downloaded all of them for my own research, I have archived them here for anyone wishing to assess the accuracy of statements made by PGSG members about what they did or said in the past, or to understand the history of the organization. I did something similar a few years ago regarding the administrative reports used in 2007 to support the decision to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), which disappeared from the US Geological Survey website: they can now be found here.

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Global population size estimates for polar bears clash with extinction predictions

How many polar bears are there in the world? This was the primary question the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had for the newly-formed Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) back in 1968. Assessing the species global population size was part of the group’s mandate ahead of the 1973 international treaty to protect polar bears from wanton overhunting. For decades, this was an important objective for the scientists that made up the group.

However, about 15 years ago that goal disappeared. I contend it was abandoned because it had become incompatible with the PBSG claim that polar bears are ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction due to human-caused global warming. The group now insists that global population estimates cannot be used to determine if numbers have gone up or down: a Catch-22 that prevents public and scientific scrutiny. This is why they push back so hard when anyone suggests that global polar bear numbers have increased.

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How are polar bears doing 15 years after the IUCN declared them ‘vulnerable’ to extinction?

The beginning of this month was the 15th anniversary of the day the IUCN declared polar bears ‘vulnerable’ to extinction because of climate change, the first time such a designation had ever been made. It was based on the opinion of polar bear specialists who examined the vague information available at the time and decided that in 45 years the bears might be in serious trouble. This decision changed the way the IUCN assessed species risk and led to mass confusion for the general public, who falsely assumed polar bear numbers had already declined by a huge amount.

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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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Retraction request to Bioscience: FOIA emails document another harsh criticism of Amstrup’s 2007 polar bear model

Today I sent a letter to the editors of the journal Bioscience requesting retraction of the shoddy and malicious paper by Harvey et al. (Internet blogs, polar bears, and climate-change denial by proxy) published online last week.

The letter reveals information about the workings of the polar bear expert inner circle not known before now, so grab your popcorn.

Harvey et al. 2018 in press climate denial by proxy using polar bears_Title

I have copied the letter below, which contains emails obtained via FOIA requests to the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, E&E Legal, and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic (USFWS request; USGS request) and sent to me by lawyer Chris Horner in 2014, unsolicited. I reveal some of them now, with his permission (most of the emails are boring, involving mostly technical topics not relevant to anything, as might be expected).

The emails in question, sent in 2014, pertain to preparations by three members of the Polar Bear Specialist Group for the IUCN Red List assessment due in 2015 (Kristin Laidre, University of Washington, Eric Regehr, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Østein Wiig, Museum of Natural History, University of Olso), and Steven Amstrup (formerly head of the polar bear research at the US Geological Survey, now “head scientist” for conservation organization Polar Bears International.

They include frank discussions about a harsh critique of Amstrup et al.’s 2007 report and 2008 paper used to support listing polar bears as ‘threatened’ on the US Endangered Species List. The criticisms come from modeling expert and chair of the IUCN Red List Standards and Petitions Subcommittee (which develops guidelines for threatened and endangered species assessments, and evaluates petitions against the red-listing of these species), H. Resit Akçakaya. The IUCN is the world’s leading conservation organization, of which the PBSG is a part.

These records are a damning indictment that the “best available science” was not used to assess conservation status of polar bears under the ESA in 2008 and 2014 and show that I am not the only scientist who thinks Amstrup’s model is fatally flawed. The letter is copied in full below, the emails are copied at the end. A file of all of the entire pertinent email thread is available as a pdf below. Here’s a sample:

Wiig to Laidre_9 May 2014 follow up to Lunches with Resit_first part_redacted highlighted

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IUCN PBSG insists the 2015 Barents Sea polar bear count was not an increase

Similar to the spin on the 2013 Baffin Bay/Kane Basin polar bear population survey, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group now insists the latest count of the Barents Sea subpopulation is not evidence of an increase in numbers since 2004, as the leader of the study announced in 2015.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

This is Part 2 of the big surprises in the latest version of the polar bear status table published by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) on 30 March 2017. See last post here regarding the PBSG population size estimates that no longer concur with the 2015 Red List assessment, including the global total — even though PBSG members wrote the report (Wiig et al. 2015, and its Supplement).

Here I want to focus on the results of subpopulation surveys that were made public after the 2015 Red List assessment was published, particularly the Barents Sea estimate.

While the 2013 Baffin Bay and Kane Basin estimates (SWG 2016) have been added to the new PBSG table, any suggestion that these might indicate population increases are strong discounted. Similarly, contrary to initial reports by the principal investigators of the survey, the PBSG insist that the Barents Sea population has not actually increased since 2004, which you may or many not find convincing.

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IUCN Specialist Group now rejects polar bear numbers it used for 2015 IUCN Red List review

Is there a mutiny in the works between the IUCN Red List and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) over polar bear population estimates or has there simply been a breach of ethics? What else explains the fact that some of the subpopulation estimates used by the PBSG to support the status of ‘vulnerable’ for the IUCN Red List in 2015 are unacceptable to them in 2017? And why are the PBSG refusing to embrace the Red List global estimate of 22,000-31,000?

2015 IUCN Red List estimates vs IUCN PBSG 2017

The latest version of the IUCN PBSG status table was posted online 30 March 2017 without fanfare or even a note on their home page. It seems the result came from much discussion at their official meeting last summer (June 2016) that they say continued into early March 2017.

2017 population status update early March headline

PBGS members voted to reject four subpopulation estimates used in the 2015 Red List polar bear status review  — even though the inclusion of those numbers was required in order for the Red List status of ‘vulnerable’ to be upheld. The group has also chosen not to update their global population page with the Red List estimate of 22,000-31,000.

And surprise, surprise — now that only one subpopulation out of nineteen worldwide has shown a recent decline, the PBSG have removed the “trend” columns from their summary table for subpopulations.

Welcome to conservation ‘science’ practiced by IUCN polar bear specialists.
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Global polar bear population size is about 28,500 when updates are included

Polar bear numbers have risen since 2005, no matter how you look at it:

Svalbard polar bear Jon Aars_Norsk Polarinstitutt

USGS estimated 24,500 (average) polar bears in 2005.

IUCN estimated 26,500 (average of 22,000-31,000) in 2015
(assessment completed in July, released in November).

Subpopulation surveys completed or reported after July 2015 (Baffin Bay, Kane Basin, Barents Sea) added ~2,000 bears.

This brings the adjusted average total at 2015 to ~28,500.

This may not be a statistically significant increase but it is also not the catastrophic decline that was predicted to occur in association with the abrupt drop of summer sea ice in 2007 to a new average of about 3-5 mkm2 [updated 1 June 2017].

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

Explained in full in this published paper, pgs 20-21:

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

UPDATE 26 March 2019: See “Latest global polar bear abundance ‘best guess’ estimate is 39,000 (26,000-58,000)

New paper asks: Has recent sea ice loss caused polar bear populations to crash?

A paper published today finds that predictions of polar bear population crashes due to summer sea ice loss are based on a scientifically unfounded assumption.

crockford-2017-title-page-graphic

[The graphic above was created by me from the title page and two figures from the paper]

Specifically, this paper of mine addresses the basic premise upon which predicted population declines linked to modeled habitat loss made by polar bear specialists back in 2006 and 2008 (by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS), and concludes that when assessed as a testable hypothesis against data collected since then, it must be rejected.

The forum for this paper is PeerJ Preprints,  which I found while looking for recent research papers about ringed seals. I discovered that Canadian ringed seal biologist Steven Ferguson recently used this service, which is free, open access, accepts review commentary, and will show up on Google and Google Scholar searches.

Ferguson et al. 2016. Demographic, ecological and physiological responses of ringed seals to an abrupt decline in sea ice availability. DOI:10.7287/peerj.preprints.2309v1 Pdf here. https://peerj.com/preprints/2309/

I decided that if this publication forum was good enough for Ferguson and his Arctic research community, it was good enough for me.

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 19 January 2017 and 2 March 2017. Open access. Version 3 is the latest and most up-to-date,  https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

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