Tag Archives: PBSG

IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group website still silent on 2015 Red List assessment

It’s now been 11 months since the IUCN Red List announced the completion of a new conservation assessment for polar bears – but you wouldn’t know that if you visited the website of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).


Back in May 2016, I wrote to the folks at the IUCN Red List asking them why the PBSG had not yet added a link to their website regarding the 19 November 2015 update to the Red List polar bear assessment (submitted by PBSG members in July 2015), a shortcoming I first notice in December 2015. I also inquired why the IUCN Red List folks were not taking the PBSG to task for their failure to keep the public informed of this new development.

After a wait of more than 6 weeks (23 June), I finally received a reply. The Red List official accepted as reasonable the PBSG excuse that since a link to the IUCN Red List was present on their home page as an icon (here), a direct link to the actual Red List polar bear assessment was not necessary. He was informed by the PBSG that the website upgrade had simply taken longer than expected but that it would be completed by the end of July.

And yet, here it is – almost three months later and still no revised website – and more importantly, still no mention of the 2015 Red List assessment update, see screencap above taken 18 October 2016 (which has been up since 14 January 2016).

Note that my complaint is not that the website upgrade has taken longer than expected (doesn’t it always?) – it’s about the continued refusal to provide a simple link to the 2015 Red List assessment at the top of their “News” feature which sits prominently on their home page.

The PBSG is considered the scientific authority on polar bears and in my opinion, the fact that for 11 months their website has lacked a link to the 2015 Red List assessment (which contains many significant changes, including a larger population estimate, a revised population trend, and a prediction of future change with error bars) raises concerns about transparency, potential bias, and lack of accountability of the PBSG organization – and displays a similar kind of contempt for the public that its chairman revealed back in 2014 when he said that population size estimates were “simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”

Copies of my email exchange with the Red List associate who answered my inquiry are below – decide for yourself if I’m over-reacting.

UPDATE 22 Nov. 2016: A cursory check of the PBSG website today revealed that a few days ago (16 Nov. 2016) the PBSG Chairman finally did what I have been suggesting for almost a year: post a simple notice and link to the 2015 IUCN Red List polar bear assessment.

A simple line in the NEWS section of the home page:


They even added a short notice with links to the documents (screen cap below).


Yes, pretty much exactly what I suggested in January. I’d hazard a guess I wasn’t the only one complaining.

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Terrestrial food fight amongst polar bear researchers reflects political differences

With a few big guns on one side and some fringe folk on the other, a dichotomy of opinion has developed amongst polar bear researchers regarding whether or not consumption of land-based foods is making a difference to polar bear survival (or is likely to in the future).

Polar bears eating terrest foods WHB_Rockwell press release

It’s been going on for a while now. Last year, two US Geological Survey members of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) apparently got fed up with the scatter-shot of papers promoting terrestrial foods as a possible salvation for polar bears (e.g. Iles et al. 2013;  Iverson et al. 2014; Rockwell and Gormezano 2013a, 2013b). In April, they published a canon volley of a paper meant to blow all that ‘polar-bears-might-survive’ talk out of the water once and for all (Rode et al. 2015).

Note that although the PBSG didn’t bother to update their website with the IUCN Red List assessment when it came out last November, they had a link up to the USGS terrestrial feeding paper within 16 days (with an editorial summary in the “NEWS” section as well as a listing of the paper in the “RECOMMENDED READING” section). As I suggest below, this difference in treatment may not be a coincidence.

However, another group of non-PBSG researchers  haven’t given up just yet, as shown by the title chosen for the most recent news report (Alaska Dispatch News, 16 June 2016) on the just-finished International Bear Conference:

Want to know how a changing climate is affecting polar bears? Look at what they’re eating.

Apparently, Jeff Welker, a University of Alaska Anchorage researcher who is co-author on two recent papers on the subject of polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods (Tartu et al. 2016 and Rogers et al. 2015), gave a presentation at the conference that raised this topic yet again. His talk came on the heels of an earlier presentation by Todd Atwood, who suggested Southern Beaufort polar bears might benefit from staying onshore to eat left-over whale scraps instead of staying on the sea ice during the summer (even though he had no data to support that opinion – as I discussed in this post).

Here’s the question: is this dispute really about what polar bears eat or don’t eat when they’re on land – or is it symptomatic of the underlying politics of polar bears? [CBC documentary video by that name here]
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PBSG failure to acknowledge 2015 IUCN polar bear update drives the public here

It is now past the 15 June 2016 mark and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) has still not acknowledged the 2015 IUCN Red List update on the status of polar bears. See the screencap below, taken this morning.

PBSG at 16 June 2016

This notice has been up since 14 January 2016 and no reference or link to the November 2015 IUCN Red List update has been posted, even though PBSG members authored the report (pdf here)!

What they may not realize is that their silence just drives people who search the internet looking for up-to-date population and conservation status info on polar bears to this site. My posts on population size and conservation status have been the most popular posts since November.

It’s that kind of attention that has made this site so popular: PolarBearScience will reach 750,000 views within the next couple of weeks (see “Blog Stats” lower right) – that’s right, 3/4 million views in less than four years. More than 400,000 readers have come here since the end of July 2012 to find out what’s really going on in the world of polar bears. Continue reading

Silence of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group on the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment

It’s been six months and still the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has not updated its website with a link to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears, which was made public with some fanfare in November 2015. They are not the only group still ignoring the Red List decision but their silence is the most damning – the IUCN is the parent body of their organization.

On May 7th, I wrote to the IUCN Red List folks (redlist@iucn.org) about this situation (excerpt below) but as yet have received no reply.

PBSG website banner May 10 2016

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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.


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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My new Arctic Fallacy paper- Sea ice stability and the polar bear

I have a new paper out that explains a fundamental problem with polar bear conservation.

Chukchi June 15 2014_USGS_Brian Battaile_after swim_sm

I’m convinced that a flawed and out-dated ecological concept — that sea ice, under natural conditions, provides a stable, predictable habitat — is what has allowed the present doom and gloom attitude of most polar bear specialists to develop.

Sea ice changes, of course, from season to season. However, the concept that sea ice is a stable habitat assumes that these seasonal changes are predictable and virtually the same from one year to the next – at least, similar enough that the differences are not responsible for causing marked declines in population size.

The assumption is that under natural, stable conditions populations of Arctic animals will either stay the same over time or increase. Biologists were taught at university that sea ice should be a stable habitat and as a result, they’ve glossed over evidence they collected to the contrary. [see recent posts here and here, for example]

Negative effects on populations of short-term natural variations in spring sea ice or spring snow cover on sea ice have been entirely ignored in modeled predictions of future conditions. The focus has been on summer ice extent.

I have summarized this evidence in a fully referenced, peer-reviewed essay that explores how the acceptance of this fallacy (“sea ice is a stable habitat”) has so skewed the conservation biology of polar bears that to outsiders it may look like a scientific integrity issue.

The summary and the essay are below (with embedded links and references). The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has published the essay in their “Briefing Paper” series (#16, The Arctic Fallacy: Sea Ice Stability and the Polar Bear), which includes a must-read foreword by Dr. Matthew Cronin, Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Press release here, pdf here.

I think you’ll find it timely and thought-provoking.

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