Tag Archives: Vongraven

Constant dire predictions have been an attempt to counter effective criticism of polar bears as AGW icon says outgoing PGSG chair

In an unexpected statement, Dag Vongraven (the out-going Chairman of the Polar Bear Specialist Group) suggests that much of the incessant dire warnings of doom about the future of polar bears from PBSG members has been a counter-measure to offset the effective efforts by myself and others to expose the flawed rhetoric this group promotes.

You may remember Vongraven, who in 2014 famously sent me an email alerting me to a PBSG statement that later came back to bite them (in part because it was included in a CBC documentary called The Politics of Polar Bears later that year, see below):

It is important to realize that this range [i.e. their polar bear population estimate] never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.

Will this be another? You be the judge.

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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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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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IUCN Red Book officials forced scientific standards on polar bear predictive models

As I reported Thursday, the IUCN announcement of a new Red List assessment for polar bear got the usual overwrought attention from international media outlets. However, not one of these contained a quote from a polar bear biologist.


Steven Amstrup, science spokesperson for activist conservation organization Polar Bears International, has so far had nothing to say to the media. Yet, Amstrup was a co-author of the IUCN Red List report. Not until late in the day following the release of the report did his his organization’s website post a short, bland news report (“Climate Change Still Primary Threat to Polar Bears”).

Similarly, Ian Stirling, Andrew Derocher, Nicholas Lunn (also a co-author of the IUCN Red List report), and former WWF employee Geoff York – who are usual go-to guys for polar-bears-are-all-going-to-die media frenzies – have so far been silent and invisible on this issue.

In addition, while the IUCN press release [backup here: 2015 IUCN Red List press release_Nov 19 2015] included a quote from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) chairman Dag Vongraven, as of this morning (21 November, PST), the website of the PBSG contains no mention of this decision – no item in the “News” category  and, more importantly, no update of the status table  or global estimates to reflect the changes contained in the report  (even though they obviously knew it was coming months ago: the report was submitted to the IUCN Red List 27 August 2015).

In my opinion, this silence says it all: polar bear specialists know this assessment is a severe de facto critique of their 2008 assessment (as well as Amstrup’s predictive models) and it’s a big step backwards for their conservation activism. I expect they are silent because they are royally pissed off.

However, this assessment is good news because finally, some standards of scientific rigor have been applied to polar bear predictive models – even though the PBSG were still been allowed to pretend that summer sea ice coverage is critical to polar bear health and survival (Crockford 2015).  Continue reading

Hypocrisy of Arctic biologists: fossil fuels for me but not for thee

It takes a special kind of gall for biologists to plead for more funds to count and study Arctic marine mammals they claim are endangered by the use of fossil fuels, when their proposed field work cannot be done without the use of fossil fuels.

Polar_Bear_Biologist_USFWS_working_with_a_Bear_Oct 24 2001 Amstrup photo

A new Arctic “policy” paper was promoted last week by academia (press release here), blogged about by those who were unimpressed (“Another ‘polar bears are in trouble’ story….yawwwn”) and highlighted by a few who were impressed (the magazines SCIENCE: Huge data gaps cloud fate of Arctic mammals” and SMITHSONIAN (“It’s Hard to Protect Arctic Mammals When We Don’t Know How Many Live There”) — but covered by only one media outlet that I could find (e.g., here).

The paper is a decidedly odd mix: a plea for more research funds for increased monitoring of animal populations plus strident advocacy for regulating “greenhouse gases.”

The authors repeatedly used the phrase “greenhouse gases” in their paper (seven times) but did not mention “fossil fuels” even once, despite the clear relationship between fossil fuel use and the phenomenon known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW), examples here and here. Are they self-deluded — or deliberately disingenuous about their own contributions to a problem they insist is the greatest threat to survival of Arctic marine mammals?
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Challenging NOAA’s “Arctic Report Card 2014” on polar bears

NOAA’s list of purported evidence for harm being caused to polar bears by Arctic warming is short and weak. It puts the gloomiest spin possible on the current well-being of an animal with all the earmarks of a healthy, well-distributed species.

Arctic report card 2014 screencap_Dec 18 2014

This year, polar bears are virtually the only species that NOAA mentions in their Arctic Report Card – they’ve put all their icon-eggs in one leaky basket [what happened to walrus??]. But polar bears are doing so well that to make an alarming case for polar bears as victims of Arctic warming, many important caveats had to be left out or misrepresented. Some details given are simply wrong.

This year’s polar bear chapter was penned by IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group chairman Dag Vongraven (you might recall his email to me earlier this year) and a polar bear conservation activist from Polar Bears International (whose battle cry for donations is Save Our Sea Ice!”), Geoff York.

I challenge their four weak talking points one by one below.

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IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group says its global population estimate was “a qualified guess”

Last week (May 22), I received an unsolicited email from Dr. Dag Vongraven, the current chairman of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).

pbsg logo

The email from Vongraven began this way:

Dr. Crockford

Below you’ll find a footnote that will accompany a total polar bear population size range in the circumpolar polar bear action plan that we are currently drafting together with the Parties to the 1973 Agreement. This might keep you blogging for a day or two.” [my bold]

It appears the PBSG have come to the realization that public outrage (or just confusion) is brewing over their global population estimates and some damage control is perhaps called for. Their solution — bury a statement of clarification within their next official missive (which I have commented upon here).

Instead of issuing a press release to clarify matters to the public immediately, Vongraven decided he would let me take care of informing the public that this global estimate may not be what it seems.

OK, I’ll oblige (I am traveling in Russia on business and finding it very hard to do even short posts – more on that later). The footnote Vongraven sent is below, with some comments from me. You can decide for yourself if the PBSG have been straight-forward about the nature of their global population estimates and transparent about the purpose for issuing it.
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WWF and cohorts barred from Moscow polar bear forum

Despite the fact that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) apparently provided a significant portion of the funding for the recently concluded International Forum on Conservation of Polar Bears (December 3-6, Moscow), it appears in the end they and their NGO cohorts were prevented from having an undue amount of influence at the meeting. For that we can thank the delegates of the five Arctic nations: three cheers for common sense!

This news did not emerge until late yesterday (Friday, Dec. 6), after the meeting had concluded: no mention was made of NGOs being excluded in the press releases and stories written before then. For example, see IUCN story, Dec. 5; WWF story, Dec. 4; Times of India report, Dec. 5 and this Arctic Journal story Dec. 6. There was nothing in any of them about NGOs and journalists being barred from parts of the meeting they thought they would be allowed to attend.

Note that biologist Mitch Taylor, booted-out of the Polar Bear Specialist Group because he did not agree with the group’s position on global warming, attended as part of the Canadian contingent (see list at the end of this post), which was a bit of a surprise. However, the exclusion from the meeting of WWF and their buddies is the big news as far as I’m concerned.

[The media seems more interested in the fallout from a twitter message sent on the final day of the meeting by Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq — more on that in my next post].

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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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Misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic still not fixed

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

This is an update regarding the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG)’s fancy, multilevel State of the Polar Bear web graphic that I discussed previously here, here, and here.

To refresh your memory, two points about this graphic stand out, both regarding polar bear population estimates:

1) The population estimates listed on the Nations map (copied below) add up to 22,600-32,000 – far higher than the official estimate of 20,000-25,000 polar bears worldwide.

2) The population estimates listed on the upper layer of the Subpopulation map add up to just 13,036 – not even close to the official estimate of 20,000-25,000 polar bears worldwide.
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