A recent paper that attempted to correlate pollution levels and body condition in Barents Sea polar bears reports it found body condition of female bears had increased between 2004 and 2017 despite a pronounced decline in summer and winter sea ice extent.
“Unexpectedly, body condition of female polar bears from the Barents Sea has increased after 2005, although sea ice has retreated by ∼50% since the late 1990s in the area, and the length of the ice-free season has increased by over 20 weeks between 1979 and 2013. These changes are also accompanied by winter sea ice retreat that is especially pronounced in the Barents Sea compared to other Arctic areas” [Lippold et al. 2019:988]
Posted in academic freedom, Conservation Status, Life History, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, body condition, denier, deplatformed, ice-free season, polar bear, sea ice, summer, Svalbard, threatened, vulnerable
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.
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:
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Amstrup, emails, FOIA, IUCN, journal, models, PBSG, predictions, retraction, threatened, USFWS, USGS, vulnerable
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.
[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. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/ (pdf here).
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged hypothesis, IUCN, observations, peer-review, polar bear, predictions, publication, sea ice, threatened, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, vulnerable
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) about this situation (excerpt below) but as yet have received no reply.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged advocacy, conservation, EOL, extinction, facts, IUCN, LiveScience, PBSG, polar bear, population, Red list, status, threatened, vulnerable, WWF
Grim predictions of the imminent demise of polar bears – their “harsh prophetic reality” as it’s been called – have been touted since at least 2001. But such depressing prophesies have so widely missed the mark they can now be said to have failed.
While polar bears may be negatively affected by declines in sea ice sometime in the future, so far there is no convincing evidence that any unnatural harm has come to them. Indeed, global population size (described by officials as a “tentative guess“) appears to have grown slightly over this time, as the maximum estimated number was 28,370 in 1993 (Wiig and colleagues 1995; range 21,470-28,370) but rose to 31,000 in 2015 (Wiig and colleagues 2015, [pdf here] aka 2015 IUCN Red List assessment; range 22,000-31,000).
These ominous prophesies have been promoted primarily by Ian Stirling, Steven Amstrup, Andrew Derocher and a few other IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) members but ironically, it’s data collected by their colleagues that’s refuted their message of doom.
Here are the predictions (in no particular order, references at the end):
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, Summary
Tagged conservation, death spiral, extinction, facts, International Polar Bear Day, polar bears, predictions, sea ice, status, threatened, vulnerable
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.
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.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged activists, ambassador, animal rights, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, breeding, captivity, climate change, climate scientist, cubs, education, facts, IUCN, Michael Mann, myths, polar bear, Polar Bears International, primer, Red list, reintroduction, sea ice, Steven Amstrup, threatened, vulnerable, zoo
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.
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).
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Amur tiger, climate change, decline, elephant seal, endangered, extinction, facts, fur seal, global warming, gray whale, hooded seal, IUCN, polar bear, predictions, projections, prophesy, rare species, Red list, sea ice, sea otter, Siberian tiger, status, Steller sea lion, threatened, vulnerable
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:
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).
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged conservation, Derocher, Encyclopedia of Life, extinction, facts, future, IUCN, misinformation, PBSG, polar bear, politics of polar bears, population trend, predictions, Red list, sea ice, Sherren, status, threatened, Vongraven, vulnerable
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.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status
Tagged decline, Defenders of Wildlife, EOL, extinction, facts, information, IUCN, polar bear, Polar Bear Specialist Group, Polar Bears International, population size, Red list, sea ice, status, threatened, trend, Ursus maritimus, vulnerable, Wikipedia, WWF
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
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Amstrup, climate change, conservation, Derocher, extinction, global warming, good news, IUCN, Lunn, polar bear, polar bear facts, Polar Bear Specialist Group, predictions, Red list, sea ice, Standards, status, Stirling, Vongraven, vulnerable