Tag Archives: IUCN

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

Biggest threat to polar bears reconsidered

What presents a bigger risk to current polar bear populations: natural hazards that have already proven deadly or potential, yet-to-be-realized threats prophesied to occur due to human activities? That’s a perfect question for International Polar Bear Day.

Natural ice_snow variation and polar bears_model_PolarBearScienceFeb 20 2016

Dag Vongraven, chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, remarked last year that “until 2001, everything was fine.

Polar bear researchers thus assume that 2001 was the year climate change became the new over-hunting – but is it true? What are the relative harms presented by proven natural causes, potential human-caused threats, and predicted threats due to sea ice declines blamed on global warming? Considered objectively, is climate change really the single biggest threat to polar bear health and survival right now?
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Zoos use polar bears to spur action on climate change – not to save them

Media outlets have recently been having collective orgasms over photos and videos of a three month old polar bear cub born at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, which has again raised the issue of why it is now acceptable for polar bears to be held and bred in captivity.

Zoo bear at Columbus_after birth in November 2015

Newborn polar bear cub ‘Nora’ Columbus Zoo handout

The myth being propagated by zoos and their supporters is that it’s necessary to save polar bears from extinction.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth – this is all about pressuring people to care about climate change. Polar bears are merely  a marketing tool to spur action on climate change.  That’s not my opinion but the plan put in place in 2012 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Polar Bears International.

Oddly, few animal rights activists are objecting (or at least, not objecting very strenuously) to zoo displays of captive polar bear cubs – obvious money-making draws for zoos – which were so vehemently condemned in the 1970s that most zoos gave them up.

Now, the practice is defended and everyone seems to feel this is the greatest thing since the invention of the telephone. [Update 19 February 2016: courtesy the BBC, we can add Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland to the list of zoos using “we’re saving the polar bears” justification for breeding the bears in captivity]

The surprise is that disgraced climate scientist Michael Mann, promoter of the infamous hockey stick of global temperatures, is involved in all this.

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Polar bear myths perpetuate from the mouth of stuck-in-the-past Ian Stirling

In my last post, I complained about “vague and misleading statements” made by polar bear specialists and conservation advocates. Here’s a recent example of that phenomena, from veteran polar bear biologist Ian Stirling.

 

stirling_UA faculty page photo accessed July 22 2012

The magazine of Canada’s North, UpHere, published an interview with Ian Stirling this month. The piece begins:

“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”

Yeah, well – judge for yourself. Here’s a sample:

“We have lost on average about half the sea ice that we had in 1979, which is the first year that satellite coverage of the Arctic was taken [he’s talking about September ice here]. Places like Hudson Bay are breaking up three weeks earlier than they used to and freezing up a couple weeks later. We’re going to have even more significant effects over a much wider area in the Arctic. We’re likely to lose another 30 or 40 percent, or even half of the bears that we have today in the middle of the century, and unchecked, we will likely have very few bears left at the turn of the next century. In 2100, we’ll probably just have a few small remaining pockets in the northern Canadian Arctic islands and northern Greenland.”

Read the rest here.

Stirling’s opinion about polar bears and climate change hasn’t changed since at least 2004 despite the following scientific developments: Continue reading

Many otherwise intelligent people believe only a few hundred polar bears remain

The other day, I got a call from an international journalist who admitted he’d done no research into the polar bear issue but believed, based on media reports he’d heard, that there must only be about 100-200 bears remaining in the Arctic. I know he’s not alone.

polar-bears-3-large_USGS

This journalist was utterly astonished to learn that the IUCN Red List assessment in 2015 put the polar bear population total at 22,000-31,000 bears and demanded proof that this was true.

Here is a summary of the Red List report, with references and links to the report:

The 2015 IUCN Red List assessment update for polar bears (published 18 November 2015) states that the global polar bear population is 22,000 – 31,000 (26,000), that the current trend is ‘unknown’ and that there is only a 70% chance that polar bear numbers will decline by 30% in 35 years (with virtually zero chance that the numbers will decline by 80% or more by 2050) – in other words, zero chance of extinction. [Detailed in a document called 22823 Ursus maritimus]. It classifies the polar bear as ‘vulnerable’ to extinction based on predictions of future sea ice decline due to global warming [similar to ‘threatened’ by other organizations] Pdf here.

Below is a list of what truly worrying species declines look like: that is, animals whose numbers have actually declined, no prophesies involved (Adler 2008).
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The old ‘website revision’ excuse for not updating polar bear status changes

Apparently, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) thinks that it’s OK to mislead the public on the conservation status of polar bears for half a year because its website is being revamped. This conservation organization is of the opinion that people landing on their website while searching for official polar bear status information don’t need to know right away that a new IUCN Red List document was published in November 2015. We know this because the message below appeared on the PBSG homepage 14 January 2016 (text in bold was there previously: the new message is in CAPS), screencap of entire page at 16 Jan 2016 pdf here:

PBSG website notice_2016 Jan 14 update

It appears that the PBSG feels that the public can wait to be told about 2015 Red List decision until the PBSG are ready for them to be told, which could be anywhere from March to the end of June 2016, depending on what definition of “spring” they use. Anyone (like moi) suggesting this tactic is paramount to withholding unpleasant information is just being “impatient.”

Decide for yourself but to me, this PBSG message speaks volumes: it says the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment is bad news for polar bear predictions of gloom and doom. Polar bear specialists don’t want to talk about it because it is a slap-down of all previous attempts at predicting a grim future for the bears (see the summary at the end of this post).
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Survey Results: Svalbard polar bear numbers increased 42% over last 11 years

Results of this fall’s Barents Sea population survey have been released by the Norwegian Polar Institute and they are phenomenal: despite several years with poor ice conditions, there are more bears now (~975) than there were in 2004 (~685) around Svalbard (a 42 30% increase) and the bears were in good condition.

Svalbard polar bear fall 2015_Aars

Oddly, in a September report right after the count, biologist Jon Aars reported them in “excellent” condition, with some of them “as fat as pigs.” I guess “good” is the same as “excellent.”

Bears in the Russian portion of the Barents Sea were not counted this year because the Russians would not allow it; the previous total count, from 2004, was 2,650 (range ~1900-3600) for the entire region.

map-BarentsSea

In the map above (courtesy the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group), the Svalbard archipelago is on the left (Norwegian territory) and the archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya on the right (Russian territory).

Oddly, the comments made by lead researcher Jon Aars to a Norwegian newspaper (in English), which picked this up yesterday (“Polar bears make a comeback” ), were far more positive than those in the press release (which is likely all that western media will see).

UPDATE 24 December 2015: The new population survey number for Svalbard is actually a 42% increase over the 2004 number. Thanks to Arvid Oen, a WUWT reader, for alerting Anthony Watts to the error, and to Anthony for passing it along. Title and text fixed accordingly, apologies to any others who have picked this up. Cheers and Merry Christmas.

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Organizations fail to acknowledge 2015 Red List polar bear assessment info

You have to know that the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears contains good news because no one is talking about it – and none of the online information sources I’ve checked have updated their polar bear profiles to reflect it.

For all its flaws (including the deceptive focus on summer sea ice), this Red List update is the most statistically robust, in-depth study of the conservation status of polar bears – why is it being ignored, especially by the conservation organizations people turn to for information online?

UPDATE: see 18 January 2016 post here.

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Ian Stirling uses lifetime award to repeat flawed predictions for polar bears

It has been less than a month since the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears was announced, which emphasized that the population trend for polar bears is unknown and that there is only a 70% chance that polar bear numbers could decline by 30% over the next 35 years.

ian-stirling_full

Yet, in a press release announcing the Weston Family Prize for lifetime achievement in northern research (along with $50,000) to Ian Stirling for his work on polar bears (Newswire, December 9, 2015), Stirling is quoted repeating an out-of-date prediction:

“Dr. Stirling estimates that about half of the polar bear population around the circumpolar Arctic could disappear by 2050 to 2060, if climate warming continues as is currently projected…”

I’d have thought that if Stirling did not agree with the IUCN assessment prepared by his colleagues, he would have said so last month when the report was released to international fanfare. Instead, he seems to be deliberately ignoring the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment and pretending that the flawed predictions he had a hand in making are still plausible.  Continue reading

Paris climate change deal will not stop polar bears dying due to thick ice in spring

Thick spring ice due to natural causes is currently the single biggest threat to polar bears. Not declining summer sea ice – thick spring ice. That could change in the future but right now, the evidence supports that statement.

polar_bear with collar_USGS

Polar bear deaths due to cyclical changes in Arctic sea ice thickness in the spring have continued despite rising CO2 emissions and declining summer sea ice extent (last major incident, 2004-2006): there is no reason to expect this will not continue. Unwarranted attention on summer ice extent has deflected attention from this major cause of local polar bear population decline.

Sea ice models do not address past or future changes in spring ice thickness and predictive models of polar bear survival blame all population declines on summer sea ice declines despite strong evidence to the contrary (Crockford 2015: The Arctic Fallacy). Continue reading