Tag Archives: population estimates

Supporting document for Canada’s polar bear status maps reveal surprises

My request to Environment Canada in early December 2014 for the documents supporting their polar bear status maps has finally generated results.

In an email dated 2 March 2015, I received the document produced by the EC Polar Bear Technical Committee (PBTC). I waited to see if it would be appended to the webpage where the maps were posted last year (reported here and here). However, as of today, that has not happened, so I am posting it here. There are some rather striking differences that may surprise you.

UPDATE 22 March 2015: A copy of the letter from the Director General of the Canadian Wildlife Service that accompanied the document below, which I forgot to include, is here. It states that the once a new status table has been compiled (provided below), “it is reviewed by the Polar Bear Administrative Committee and then becomes a public document.” The implication is that the reviewed document has not yet been produced.
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PolarBearScience has been ‘Carbon Briefed’ – success at last!

Not just anyone warrants the attention of the European rapid response team: only those who get media attention and refuse to stay ‘on message’ about global warming issues get the Carbon Brief treatment.

Pidcock tweet on polar bears at 5 March 2015 6_20PM Pacific

After years of being ignored, I have finally been acknowledged as a worthy adversary [a force to be reckoned with] by those who spin the science of polar bears.

Carbon Brief folks got their knickers in a knot over my “Twenty Good Reasons Not to Worry about Polar Bears” blog post that the Global Warming Policy Foundation released as a Briefing Paper (pdf here). All timed for release on International Polar Bear Day (27 February 2015), which got mainstream media attention galore in the UK.
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W Hudson Bay polar bear mark-recapture study report 2013 – at last

I have finally secured a copy of the 2013 Western Hudson Bay mark-recapture study produced by Environment Canada.

The pertinent figure is below: as you can see, there was no declining trend in Western Hudson Bay polar bears between 2000 and 2011. Click to enlarge.

WH EC Polar Bear Demography report Lunn 26 Nov 2013 Final _Fig 8

I have relatives visiting so I don’t have time to do an in-depth summary but the report’s opening “Summary” is copied below and a pdf provided. More later when I have had time to look at it more closely. Background on the issue here.

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Public misled about W Hudson Bay bears since November 2013

Leading polar bear biologists knew by November 2013 that mark-recapture studies showed the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation had not changed appreciably since 2004 but none said so. This includes Steven Amstrup and Ian Stirling at Polar Bears International, Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta), and Nick Lunn (Canadian Wildlife Service), all of whom are (or have been) extensively involved in Western Hudson Bay polar bear research and have made recent statements to the media on this topic.

Polar_Bear_2004-11-15_Wapusk Nat Park_Wikipedia

More details have emerged about the status of Western Hudson Bay (WHB) polar bears (reported a few days ago here), reported this morning in NunatsiaqOnline, excerpts below.

The story reveals that there are two Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada) reports containing population estimates of Western Hudson Bay polar bears – one produced in 2011 and another in November 2013 (reversing the 2011 conclusion) – that have not been made public.

[In contrast, Nunavut Government reports on their 2011 population estimate, based on aerial surveys, were made public in both draft and final report formats (and have since been peer-reviewed and published)]

The conclusion of the 2013 report, quoted in this mornings article, suggests that some of our most vocal polar bear specialists have been misleading the public about the status of the Western Hudson Bay population for the last year.
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PBSG determined to see polar bears listed as threatened by the IUCN in 2015

IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group conservation biologists are determined to have polar bears listed as ‘threatened with extinction’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2015 – even though the bears would not meet that classification if assessed today.

According to the minutes of their last meeting (in addition to the astonishing admissions from sea ice experts I reported yesterday), PBSG members are busy planning their strategy. They have thrown objectivity to the wind and are certain they can find a way to mask overcome the inadequacies of their case and see polar bears remain listed as ‘vulnerable’ (IUCN-equivalent to ‘threatened’ in the US) on the 2015 IUCN Red List update.

polar-bear_USFWS labeled

Along with some other priceless quotes, the minutes reveal their plan. See the original document for the context of these quotes here and an excerpt of “the plan” (pgs. 12-17) here. Continue reading

Counting bears from space can be just as accurate as by helicopter, claims new study

Satellites images might be able to replace aerial counts of polar bears in some places — if there are no clouds. But it seldom distinguishes cubs and can’t tell males from females, found a 2012 study of Foxe Basin bears that’s just been published.

Foxe Basin polar_bears_rowley_island_Stapleton 2012 press photo labeled sm

Note: This is my 200th post since July 26, 2012!

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Polar bear status changes in 2013 deconstructed, with a map to the good news

You can’t figure out what’s going on with status updates from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) without deconstructing the spin and the 2013 update is no exception. Here’s my travel guide, with a map, to the good news.

Polar Bear Subpopulations 19_2013 updates_March 20 2014_sm

I’ve finally had a chance to go through all of the details provided with the 2013 PBSG status table (pdf here). It’s just about all good news, once you wade through the spin. Numbers aside, out of the 13 populations for which some kind of data exist, five populations are now classified by the PBSG as ‘stable’ (two more than 2009), one is still increasing, and three have been upgraded from ‘declining’ to ‘data deficient’ (I explain below why this is a promotion).

That leaves four that are still considered ‘declining’- two of those judgments are based primarily on concerns of overhunting, and one is based on a statistically insignificant decline that may not be valid and is being re-assessed (and really should have been upgraded to ‘data deficient’). That leaves only one population – Western Hudson Bay – where PBSG biologists tenaciously blame global warming for all changes to polar bear biology, and even then, the data supporting that conclusion is still not available.

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Graphing polar bear population estimates over time

I’ve already commented on the 2013 update of polar bear population status released by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).

However, I thought it might be interesting to graph the changes in global population estimates over time (from 1981-2013) — not just the actual estimates from PBSG status tables (with their min/max error ranges) but those totals plus the so-called “inaccurate” estimates that the PBSG have dropped from their accounts in recent (2005-2013) assessments: Chukchi Sea, East Greenland, Queen Elizabeth Islands (now known as the “Arctic Basin”), and Laptev Sea.

In 2001, those “inaccurate” estimates contributed 5,000-5,400 bears to the global total, but now they’re gone — no bears from those regions contribute to the official totals listed on recent PBSG status tables.

Adding those dropped estimates back into the global totals makes it possible to generate a graph in which the global estimates are truly comparable over time.

To see how the dropped estimates influenced the perception of population change over time, I’ve also graphed the estimates given by the PBSG in their status tables. I’ve combined the two into one image (Fig. 1, click to enlarge) to make comparison easy.

UPDATE 5 December 2014: Links to more recent posts relevant to this issue added below. The most recent numbers, added 31 May 2015, are here.

UPDATE 26 March 2019: See “Latest global polar bear abundance ‘best guess’ estimate is 39,000 (26,000-58,000)
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The scientific abomination that is the “Circumpolar Monitoring Framework for Polar Bears”

I keep coming across mentions of a grandiose plan for future polar bear research and conservation called the “Circumpolar Monitoring Framework for Polar Bears.”

This “framework” plan was referred to extensively at the recent International Polar Bear Forum (aka the “Meeting of the Parties” that signed the 1973 conservation treaty) held in Moscow, December 3-6, 2013 (see posts about the meeting here, here, and here). In fact, government representatives of all Arctic nations present at that meeting agreed in principle to support the proposed plan.

No media reports that I’ve come across after the Moscow polar bear meeting explained what the “monitoring framework” involved, so I’ve composed a brief summary and commentary, aided by some images from Dag Vongraven’s presentation in Moscow (Vongraven 2013; pdf here).

In short, Arctic government representatives at the Moscow forum agreed that all future polar bear research should be constrained by the premise that increases in global temperatures over the next century will occur exactly as predicted by climate models and will negatively affect polar bears precisely as predicted by models devised by polar bear biologists. Under the plan, subpopulations that are already showing predicted effects of global warming will get the bulk of research funds, while regions that are paradoxically not responding as predicted will get much less money for research and survey efforts. 

This strategy proposes a coordinated research plan that is blatantly agenda-driven: implementing it would seriously compromise the usefulness of all research results generated for decades to come. I don’t think it’s anything close to being a scientifically valid plan, but decide for yourself. 

Figure 1. Vongraven 2013, Slide 1.

Figure 1. Vongraven 2013, Title slide.

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Baffin Bay polar bear status – waiting for the count

Here’s a quick summary of the status of Baffin Bay polar bears, a subpopulation I’ve not previously discussed in detail. Nothing especially earth-shattering here, except perhaps to wonder about the involvement of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a new helicopter survey of the region.

Baffin Bay (Fig. 1) is north of Davis Strait. It lies between western Greenland and Baffin Island in the eastern Arctic.

Unlike the other north/south neighbour-pair of Western/Southern Hudson Bay   (which I discussed previously), the sea ice history for Baffin Bay/Davis Strait is not as similar: Davis Strait bears have a much longer on-shore fast than Baffin Bay bears (see last post here). However, all four of these subpopulations have ‘seasonal sea ice’ – that is, the ice melts completely in late mid-to-late summer, forcing bears onshore for varying lengths of time until fall freeze-up.

Figure 1. The Baffin Bay subpopulation region lies north of Davis Strait (map on the left from Vongraven and Peacock 2011: Fig. 3) and management is shared between Canada (Nunavut) and Greenland. In total area, it covers 1.08 million km2 and its “suitable ice habitat in spring” (according to Taylor and Lee 1995) is 413,500 km,2 somewhat less than Davis Strait. The map on the right shows the sea ice extent at the end of March 2010 (NSIDC), the winter maximum.

Figure 1. The Baffin Bay subpopulation region lies north of Davis Strait (map on the left from Vongraven and Peacock 2011: Fig. 3) and management is shared between Canada (Nunavut) and Greenland. In total area, it covers 1.08 million km2 and its “suitable ice habitat in spring” (according to Taylor and Lee 1995) is 413,500 km2, somewhat less than Davis Strait. The map on the right shows the sea ice extent at the end of March 2010 (NSIDC), the winter maximum.

A peer-reviewed paper published last year (Rode et al. 2012) compared body condition vs. sea ice changes in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay (discussed here). But while that research contributed to an updated population estimate for Davis Strait (Peacock et al. 2013, discussed here), it did not do the same for Baffin Bay. This is likely because the body condition work in Baffin Bay was split between spring and fall, and it has already been determined that many Baffin Bay bears are offshore in the spring and not available for counting using shore-based methods.

That’s a shame, because the last population estimate was completed back in 1997 (Taylor et al. 2005) and it is now seriously out of date.

However, it appears the Government of Nunavut is currently in the process of surveying this region by helicopter, so a new population estimate should be available soon.

But this aspect of the survey might surprise you — a press release issued February 11, 2013 by WWF contained the following statement:

Results from the above-noted surveys will be completed and shared beginning in April 2013.

WWF made contributions of $82,000 to the Government of the Northwest Territories and $111,000 to the Government of Nunavut via Environment Canada, towards the total costs of these surveys. These funds were raised through the Arctic Home campaign from engaged Canadians and matched by The Coca-Cola Company.”  [my bold]

So, of the hundreds of millions the WWF pulls in from donations, they passed along less than $100,000 [$96,500 plus an equal contribution by Coca-Cola) to offset “the total costs of the survey.

We are not told what those total costs are, but I expect they run well over a million dollars for a multiyear/multi-region project like this, perhaps over two million. Which makes $96,500 rather a drop in the bucket. That might have paid for some of the jet fuel for the helicopters used for the survey, but probably not all of it.

Status details below.
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