From the apparently out of touch with reality University of Alberta , comes this poorly timed headline that made me laugh out loud when I read it, because of this other polar bear story today in which it demonstrates polar bear numbers on the rise:
Polar bear researchers urge governments to act now and save the species
(Edmonton) A University of Alberta polar bear researcher along with eleven international co-authors are urging governments to start planning for rapid Arctic ecosystem change to deal with a climate change catastrophe for the animals.
U of A professor Andrew Derocher co-authored a policy perspective in the journal Conservation Letters urging governments with polar bear populations to accept that just one unexpected jump in Arctic warming trends could send some polar bear populations into a precipitous decline.
“It’s a fact that early sea ice break-up and late ice freeze-up and the overall reduction in ice pack are taking their toll,” said Derocher. “We want governments to be ready with conservation and management plans for polar bears when a worst case climate change scenario happens.”
The effects of climate change on polar bears are clear from both observational and modeling studies in many parts of the distribution. Earlier studies by Derocher and his colleagues show that one very bad ice year could leave hundreds of Hudson Bay polar bears stranded on land for an extended period. Derocher noted “Such an event could erase half of a population in a single year”.
“The management options for northern communities like Churchill would range from doing nothing, to feeding the bears, moving them somewhere else or euthanizing them,” said Derocher.
The concerned researchers say they’re not telling governments what to do. The authors, however, want policy makers and wildlife managers to start planning polar bear for both the predicted escalation of Arctic warming and for an off the charts worst case scenario.
“You’re going to make better decisions if you have time to think about it in advance: it’s a no brainer,” said Derocher. Further, “consultation with northern residents takes time and the worst time to ask for input is during a crisis”.
The researchers say the options for polar bear management include feeding and releasing the bears when freeze ups allow the animals to get to their hunting grounds. Derocher calls this a wild bear park model, but the paper reports the cost could run into the millions and could have ramifications for the long term behaviour of the animals.
The authors of the paper say government should be aware of the fall-out from climate change and human safety in the north is going to be an increasing challenge..
“Around the world polar bears are an iconic symbol so any tragedy would produce massive attention,” said Derocher. “If the warming trend around Hudson’s Bay took an upward spike, the population of 900 to 1000 bears in western Hudson Bay would be on the line, so there has to be a plan.”
The paper is titled; Rapid ecosystem change and polar bear conservation. It was published online as an accepted article January 25, 2013 in Conservation Letters.
Models don’t cut it, data does.
Some numbers via Andrew Bolt:
Polar bear numbers as estimated in 2009 by the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission: 20,000 – 25,000.
Polar bear numbers as estimated in 2012 by the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission: 22,600 – 32,100.
Ask the Experts: Are Polar Bear Populations Increasing?
Answered by Dr. Andrew Derocher
Some recent media reports have cited inaccurate data concerning polar bears. For clarification on polar bear numbers, we turned to Dr. Andrew Derocher, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group.
Dr. Derocher is a polar bear scientist with the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. He also serves on PBI’s Scientific Advisory Council.
Question: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed that the polar bear be listed as a threatened species. Yet some news reports state that polar bear numbers are actually increasing. For example, the following paragraph appeared on the Fox News Web site:
“In the 1950s the polar bear population up north was estimated at 5,000. Today it’s 20- to 25,000, a number that has either held steady over the last 20 years or has risen slightly. In Canada, the manager of wildlife resources for the Nunavut territory of Canada has found that the population there has increased by 25 percent.”
If this is true, then why are scientists worried about population declines?
Answer from Dr. Derocher: The various presentations of biased reporting ignore, or are ignorant of, the different reasons for changes in populations. If I thought that there were more bears now than 50 years ago and a reasonable basis to assume this would not change, then no worries. This is not the case.
The bottom line here is that it is an apples and oranges issue. The early estimates of polar bear abundance are a guess. There is no data at all for the 1950-60s. Nothing but guesses. We are sure the populations were being negatively affected by excess harvest (e.g., aircraft hunting, ship hunting,self-killing guns, traps, and no harvest limits). The harvest levels were huge and growing. The resulting low numbers of bears were due only to excess harvest but, again, it was simply a guess as to the number of bears.
I can’t say this answer by Dr. Derocher inspires any confidence in his ability to give a straight answer. If it were guessing, show how that you determined it was “guessing”.
Maybe it is because nobody really has a handle on the numbers, from an article in the Society of Environmental Journalists:
These and other scientists agree that polar bear populations have, in all likelihood, increased in the past several decades, but not five-fold, and for reasons that have nothing to do with global warming. The Soviets, despite their horrendous environmental legacy on many issues, banned most polar bear hunting in 1956. Canada and the U.S. followed suit in the early 1970s — with limited exceptions for some native hunting, and permitted, highpriced trophy hunts. And a curtailment of some commercial seal hunting has sparked a seal population explosion – angering fishermen, but providing populations in eastern Canada and Greenland with plenty of polar bear chow, leading in turn to localized polar bear population growth in spite of the ice decline.
The scientists also caution that we still don’t have a firm count on these mobile, remote, supremely camouflaged beasts. All this uncertainty over the numbers — past and present —even gave some conservative bloggers pause.