Faux polar bear figures

Susan Crockford, Special to Financial Post (republished at WUWT with permission from the author)

polarbear_billboardPolar bears are a conservation success story. However, you’d never know that from the output of polar bear researchers, who lately seem to have forgotten that the most crucial part of their job is the unbiased collection and presentation of scientific data.

The most recent example of this disturbing conduct came to light this fall. A new peer-reviewed paper hyped by the media was published by a research team that included several senior biologists belonging to the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). The PBSG was formed to summarize information mandated by the 1973 Arctic treaty to protect polar bears from overhunting.

Co-authors of the new paper included American PBSG members Steven Amstrup and Eric Regehr, as well as Canadian members Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher. The researchers took population estimates from a previous study (conducted 2001-2006) and added four years of new data (2007-2010). They used a computer model, developed by lead author Jeff Bromaghin, to suggest that a severe decline had occurred from 2004 to 2006, with a modest recovery from 2007 to 2010. The size of the polar bear population in 2010 was estimated at about 900 bears (range 606-1,212), a drop of about 40% from the 2006 estimate of 1,526 (range 1,211-1,841).

However, the polar bear researchers knew before starting their new field work in 2007 that the 2004-2006 polar bear population crash had occurred, and they knew why: Sea ice in the Southern Beaufort was unusually thick in the mid-2000s during the critical spring feeding period. Periodic thick spring ice is a phenomenon unique to this region and is known to have occurred every decade since at least the 1960s.

During springs with thick sea ice, ringed seals (polar bears’ primary prey) either moved elsewhere to have their pups or were harder to find. Every time this happened, the food scarcity caused wide-spread starvation among polar bears – mothers with cubs and sub-adult bears were especially hard-hit.

Thick spring ice conditions in 1974, for example, were just as severe as in 2004-2006, and a similar crash in polar bear numbers occurred. More importantly, the 1970s polar bear population decline was followed by a rebound in numbers, a fact known to at least one of those involved in the recent study (Stirling).

The authors had to have realized a cut-off date of 2010 would produce a misleadingly-low population estimate

So why did the authors terminate their study period at 2010, when data from field work was available until 2013 (a fact evident from another paper)? They must have known that cubs born in 2007, when survival of bears began to improve, would not have been old enough to produce cubs themselves by 2010. The authors had to have realized a cut-off date of 2010 would produce a misleadingly low population estimate.

It is apparent that the polar bear population indeed recovered because, in 2012, a different survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found numbers were higher than they had been since 2002. This critical fact was missing from the new paper, its press release, and interview statements made by some of the co-authors.

It was made clear, however, that the artificially low estimate of 900 bears would be used in the 2015 PBSG population status assessment for their parent organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), to include in its next Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species. This provides a probable rationale for why the polar bear study end date was set at 2010 rather than 2013.

We know that PBSG biologists are under the gun – they have until June 2015 to come up with a new assessment for the IUCN. Polar bears are not considered threatened with extinction by any measure used by the IUCN except predicted (future) threats from global warming, but the scientific veracity of those predicted threats has now been called into question.

It turns out that the population models used by the U.S. to list polar bears as “threatened” in 2008, developed with strong input from long-standing PBSG member Steven Amstrup, were heavily criticized by IUCN modelling experts. The PBSG has been told that Amstrup’s model results will not be accepted as support for the next IUCN Red List assessment. In addition, all sea ice predictive models are now acknowledged to be unreliable over future 10-20 year periods.

This means that if the PBSG cannot build a completely new computer model that predicts a decline in population of at least 30% over the next 30-36 years, and which takes uncertainties of predicted sea ice declines into account, polar bears will be downgraded by the IUCN to a conservation status of ‘least concern’ or even ‘data deficient.’ Records show neither of those outcomes is acceptable to the PBSG.

It appears that in an effort to ensure a desired result for the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment, data utilized for the Southern Beaufort polar bear study was cherry-picked to create an anomalously low population estimate and an exaggerated declining trend. In short, prominent PBSG biologists seem determined to keep polar bears listed as “vulnerable” to extinction (IUCN-equivalent of “threatened”) at all costs.

We admire polar bear biologists for their professional dedication to this iconic species, and rightly so. However, while it’s understandable that polar bear biologists are conservation-minded, the public and policy makers need them to be scientists first and advocates for polar bear protection second. Polar bears are currently doing well – data shenanigans to keep them classified as “threatened” undermine the whole point of doing science.


 

Susan Crockford is a zoologist and an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria. She also writes a science blog about polar bears: www.polarbearscience.com

 

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99 thoughts on “Faux polar bear figures

  1. They have been using low polar bear #s / endangered to protect the Arctic from full out oil and Gas production.

  2. Susan Crockford is for polar bears what Steve McIntyre is for paleoclimate hockey sticks. Good to see her getting more recognition here at WUWT because of its global influence.

    • Exactly, and as I told Susan, her work, writing, and the unpicked data have enabled my family to let me speak again at the dinner table. And they listened and then they read. While I still have my voice, I will now do some predator-prey informing so that future numbers are not alarming.

    • {Aside to Istvan}
      Hey! Rud Istvan! Last night, within 3 hours after we “talked,” my brother asked me what I wanted for my birthday and…. I told him (and he will get it, too) a gift card to Amazon SO I CAN BUY YOUR E BOOK Blowing Smoke (in a couple of weeks)! Just after I wished I could buy it…. God was listening and…. cared.
      #(:))

      • Janice, that is amazing. Just so you know, the book has an essay Polar Bears. And guess who it references on two major issues–Susan. The essay itself takes a different debunking tack than Susan does. First reason was, I do not have anything close to her zoological expertise. Second reason was, aimed at a different target, CAGW politicization using sound bites like polar bears. Regards to all here.

    • With that many polar bears, it is no wonder that the walruses are hauling out on sandy beaches with no ice in sight. It is well known that polar bears can’t survive on land, so the walruses are safe from extinction by polar bear.
      Maybe it’s about time to return to making steelhead and salmon flies out of polar bears.
      Their hair is unique for that purpose. Currently it is generally illegal to possess polar bear fur.

      • I have some – works great. I worked with group of vets at WSU where they cared for large animals with substantial injuries. Big guy didn’t make it (sadly), but we have fur, tie flies, catch salmon and steelhead.

      • Er, polar bears in Hudson Bay live on pebbly shores and hunt walrus on those pebble beaches. When young bears do not employ the adult hunting strategies, the walrus are warned and go elsewhere. And they prefer sand or pebbles over ice for haul outs.
        Polar bears survive just fine on land. It’s the females who largely prefer to den up out on the ice to get away from predators and male bears who will attack their cubs. During very warm periods, polar bears move ashore, as evidenced by the grizzly/polar bear hybrids that result.

    • (also aside to Rud)
      at – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/science/earth/study-raises-alarm-for-health-of-ocean-life.html?_r=0
      I posted:
      Jim Sawhill
      Vermont Pending Approval
      It is very frightening how this is unfolding and you too can learn the facts about what is happening to our planet at http://wattsupwiththat.com/.
      You deserve to know.
      and got gonged! Don’t want you silly humans to know.
      NY Times comment of choice included

      slowly-unfolding, planet-wide catastrophe

      Cheers

  3. Would you mind providing links to the following?
    * The new paper,
    * The 2012 survey you have in mind, and
    * The criticism from IUCN members
    Thanks,

  4. Sorry if this is a repost.
    Would you mind providing links to the following:
    * The new study,
    * The Fish and Wildlife 2012 survey to which you refer, and
    * The criticism by IUCN members, especially the statement that “Amstrup’s model results will not be accepted as support for the next IUCN Red List assessment.”
    Thanks,

  5. Thanks yet again polarbearscience (Susan).

    the whole point of doing science

    This was not science; this was data selection and I am thrilled that IUCN recognized that from PBSG. It is a step and next maybe that global warming thing.

  6. While at a college class reunion this past fall, my wife and a classmate in town from Alaska were chatting with a third classmate who brought up the “poor polar bears” in Alaska. My wife (who has seen Dr. Crockford’s blog) and the Alaskan resident responded immediately and virtually in unison, “the polar bears are doing fine.” That ended the polar bear discussion real quickly.
    The bears on the billboard photo do indeed look like they are doing fine.

    • I join you in paying attention to the choices of words in climate discussions, mostly out of habit–graduate work in theoretical linguistics can have that kind of effect. In its English borrowing, faux does not mean exactly the same as false. Faux implies not only “false”, but with a range of added (negative) connotations including “imitation”, “fake”, “faked”, etc., with sometimes also the implication of “deceptive”. False usually carries no judgments other than on the real-world truth-value of a proposition. A headline of “False polar bear figures” would fall flat on American ears, because false figures could be totally innocent of villainy, so, “Ho, hum.” A “faux polar bear figure” couldn’t be the result of accident, while a “false polar bear figure” might be. In using faux, the headline (written by a headline creator, not Dr. Crockford) says the figures are wrong, and Dr. Crockford thinks they may not be innocently incorrect.

    • Sans doute, parce que le mot ‘faux’ est plus diplomatique. Avec du sucre on attire plus de mouches qu’avec du vinaigre.
      Seconde question; pourquoi essayer d’attirer des mouches?
      [mebbe

      Probably because the word ‘false’ is more diplomatic. With sugar you attract more flies than vinegar.
      Second question; why try to attract flies?”

      ]

  7. Purposeful misleads are so transparent. What fools. What a waste of time and energy and money. Let’s see, more polar bears = less seals = more salmon = more orcha = less seals =. more salmon… looking like the seals lose. 🙂
    …and one less beach comber checking sea level rise.
    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CCMQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DGyyrK-cWLJs&ei=kTS4VLilDcKHyASEi4HYDA&usg=AFQjCNHg6lCizI4-HYLyB_K1ou9no0sPkg&bvm=bv.83829542,d.aWw

  8. I said this on another blog a few years back, but it is worth repeating here: [Referencing Global Warming/Polar Bear extinction] “The only way my SUV will ever contribute to the untimely death of ANY polar bear will be if it darts out onto the interstate and I hit it at 75 mph.”
    I’m thinking that my aforementioned scenario would end badly for both the bear and me.

  9. Keeping the bears listed brings large grants to researchers pockets or keeps them employed by F&WS. I know guys who are now retired that have spent their whole career working on T&E fish in the Colorado River and without much progress in recovering the fish. Nice work if you can get it.

  10. Poar bears benefit from the cuteness factor. What better subject for an environment or conservation poster. Back awhile, maybe still, baby harp seals were the cutesy poster subject… “Don’t club me.”.
    Polar bears are aggressive predators. if you were to encounter one, he wouldn’t be cute for long. As I’m sure Susan Crockford can attest.
    Baby seals though, are actually cute (harmless)
    I’ll bet seals truly love thick-ice Springtimes
    Go Seals!!

    • You want cuteness, its the ‘AGW endangered’ American Pika. See essay No Bodies in ebook Blowing Smoke. Problem was, the NFWS completely shot down the WWF proposal. Utterly devastating actual science. Despite that legal outcome (NOT ENDANGERED) the EPA still features the pika as climate endangered on its current website (well, I haven’t checked since the book went to press four months ago…). More incontrovertible evidence of science corruption by NGO’s and of EPA malfeasance.

    • Polar bears, whom I admire for their resilience in living in the coldest parts of the Northern Hemisphere, are one of the few wild animals which will stalk and [prey] on humans. The others are the so called man eating tigers and leopards of India which were mostly aged or other wise infirm animals who could no longer catch their normal prey. Wolves will (very, very) occasionally do it too. The point is they are NOT the cuddly animals one sees in the coke commercials or the Greenpeace propaganda.
      [We do hope they pray before eating their prey at each meal. .mod]

  11. More data manipulation by date selection. These people do not seem to comprehend the damage they are doing to themselves and science in general.

  12. Thanks Susan. I think it was you who pointed out before, that the existence of the PBSG relies on keeping Polar bears as endangered as possible. Once they establish that numbers are healthy then they themselves become endangered.
    Regards, Eamon.

  13. By the way, how many human deaths caused by fossil-fuel-use restrictions in Africa would saving 25,000 polar bears justify? An academic question, perhaps, but still. . . .

  14. “Once they establish that numbers are healthy then they themselves become endangered.”
    This needn’t be the case. Just as with climate modeling research, I hope governments will continue funding the science. But why can’t both climatologists and polar bear researchers just give us the straight facts with the hype and spin?

    • “””””…..
      Frank K.
      January 15, 2015 at 2:05 pm
      “Once they establish that numbers are healthy then they themselves become endangered.”
      This needn’t be the case. Just as with climate modeling research, I hope governments will continue funding the science. …..”””””
      Governments fund nothing; it’s the taxpayer’s money. Ask the taxpayers if they want to fund the science.

  15. This interesting conversation about polar bears took place a while ago, on another forum.
    ———-
    “I’ve worked in polar bear country for a few years. We always went in teams of 3 people. One to actually do the work, perhaps with just a little help for a second or two from the other two, The other two carried a shotgun and a rifle. The shotgun was loaded with, in this order: some sort of whistling flare, two shells with rubber bullets, and 2 lead slugs. The rifle was almost always a Sako or Husqvarna 6.5×55 loaded with Norma heavy 160 grain round nose bullets, or such. All team members had to pass a ” three shots into a pie plate at 50 meters off-hand” test. Sounds easy at the bench, try that with barking dogs and charging bears and screaming people around you. We used the 6.5 because of lower recoil and that;s what they gave us.
    The polar bears cannot be “read”, their behavior rarely shows any indication of intent to attack. They charge from 100 meters away or more and they do so extremely fast. Two pairs of eyes are needed to watch in all directions at all times. In rolling terrain they are very skilled at stalking out of sight, they can be on top of you before you detect them.
    We tried dogs as deterrent, but that attracted the bears and got the dogs killed. I was never charged, but we had one team that had to shoot a very hungry and emaciated female… Had to file reports.
    We camped in camps surrounded by 3 concentric fences of electric wires rigged with loud sirens (loudspeakers that also played sounds of angry dominant male bears) and fireworks. Arctic foxes always tripped the alarms, could not sleep more than 3 hours at a time. Every 6th to 10th alarm was a curious or hungry bear, we shot them with rubber bullets and pepper spray. Most effective was the angry male sound.
    Quite a few team members quit early… This was a large scale scientific survey project in the early 1980s. Almost all teams had women. The bear that i remember getting killed was shot by a female geology student from Germany…
    Problem with dogs was that if we took one or two as guard dogs with us in the field they actually attracted bears and there were more bear sightings when dogs were present.
    If we kept them in the permanent camp they barked their brains out 24/7 at every fox and everything else and did not keep the bears away from the fenced camp. In my first summer there i hated the dogs more than the bears.
    I think the scariest i ever experienced was a large male following us for 25 miles, over a period of 2 days, always looking at us and sniffing from about 200 meters away. Later when i went to Africa in lion country i felt relaxed, by comparison…”
    Q: “Speaking of women in the field, did you happen to have a chance to work with Dr. Susan J. Crockford?” I regard her as the world’s foremost authority on polar bears.”
    A: “Nope, but i read stuff written by her.”

  16. I have said this before. There are so many polar bears in northern Manitoba that they move into homes and stay there off and on during the winter. RCMP told me that.

  17. I think I see a stable feedback loop going on here. More polar bears cause an increase in summer tundra ground albedo (albeardo) …causing cooler summers and thicker winter ice….causing fewer polar bears and therefore warmer summers and thinner ice and more polar bears…
    Now where is my grant application form…..?

  18. One could infer from the article that as as polar bear populations crash there would be a corresponding rise in seal numbers, from the lack of predation. Hence in the subsequent year or two polar bears would have more prey..This ample food supply would facilitate the polar bear’s population rebound.
    Nature’s balance.
    The striking thing is the depth to which the bear populations fall. I imagine that a couple of thick-ice years would make the bears migrate or otherwise adapt.

  19. If an obscure snail somewhere makes a comeback from extinction, the warmists can rely on the msm to bury the story. If poley bears are seen to be doing well, then bang goes the poster child of the whole religion.

    • Well…sorta. First, you know that the warmist will claim victory, and espouse what a HUGE success all of their efforts were, and that they will now be moving on to other needy, under served, causes.
      I can’t help but wonder what Coca-Cola would do for it’s new mascot.

  20. Noble Cause Corruption is rampant in all things connected with Climate today.
    But I suspect this may be more a case of simply needing to keep the paychecks coming. The fight for grant and research funding is the fight for a paycheck. What research leader wants to tell their team that their good work and publications showing that polar bear populations are ok now means that next year’s funding is going to get cut, along with everyone’s jobs?

  21. I’ve been involved with some research involving interviews with Inuit and their experiences with polar bears. The common thread with every interview is, “We’ve never seen so many polar bears.”
    It makes my heart break for the poor interviewers.

    • I’ll take some pictures of the lion to send to the bow hunter’s next of kin, if he had any kin before he decided to be a lion killer.
      I’ll make some copies for the lion’s kin too.

    • I know. A compound bow and terrible shot placement. Sucker had to depend on the back up shooter. Although at the ranges that bows are effective I imagine an aggressive lion could get to the hunter.

      • The big cats try to get their teeth between the vertebrae of your spine to paralyze you, or go for your throat to choke you out.
        What else they gonna do to end it quickly and avoid injury to themselves ?

    • There is a reason most of Africa has large minimum calibre requirement for dangerous game. But some don’t, and ejiits will try stupid shyte. A lion requires a large energy dump as well as a sizeable hole.
      no matter how efficient on non-predators, a bow is far [too] “slow” for a close range shot on an animal that will **** you up in seconds on principle even as its dying at a perfectly acceptable bow hunting rate.
      At least there were PH’s with rifles with him, to fix his furry four legged feline man homing missile problem.
      And there is nothing wrong with legal lion hunting, it is probably the most important conservation tool they have for all the “endangered” african game. The fees alone help fund conservation, and the fact its a money earner gives them an incentive to protect, without which management could be non-existent or downright hostile.
      Nobody likes to share land with livestock eating predators, or crop destroying pachyderm herds, if they don’t absolutely have to. The fact that they are commercially viable has done more for african conservation than [anything] else, no better incentive exists.

      • “furry four legged feline man homing missile problem.”
        ===========
        I like that they are roaming around, NIMBY, and tigers too.

        • u.k.(us) (replying to Martin S.)

          “furry four legged feline man homing missile problem.”

          ===========
          I like that they are roaming around, NIMBY, and tigers too.

          Furry? I thought most multi-legged man-huntin’ lyin’ cougars were shaved bare. Everywhere. 8<)

      • Well when you shoot a lion (big male) you aren’t just shooting a lion. How do you know what the situation may be in the pride that this one you killed, may have been the head honcho of.
        The ripples that you create by killing the pride defender can wreak a whole lot more havoc, than your simple act of macho juvenility.

  22. Not only Terribillus. All other Ursine subspecies are having a population boom in North American. They’re even “walkin’ in LA” and they ain’t nobodies! For that matter, all large predators in NoAM are having a population boom. Walk out the door and you enter the food chain, in many, many places.

  23. Whenever I see “polar bear” in an MSM article…I always got to Dr. Crockford’s site for the real story. Why the MSM (aka the “lame” stream media) don’t get her take on any PB story is mystifying (OK it is not bur I am being kind).

  24. “We know that PBSG biologists are under the gun – they have until June 2015 to come up with a new assessment for the IUCN. Polar bears are not considered threatened with extinction by any measure used by the IUCN except predicted (future) threats from global warming, but the scientific veracity of those predicted threats has now been called into question.”
    NOW been called into question? It has always been called into question. There was never a time when the ‘science’ of Polar Bear population prediction was generally accepted, and, contrary to popular belief, there has never been a time when an AGW crisis was generally accepted. Both are based on unfounded assumptions and a heaping helping of ignorance!
    Isn’t it remarkable that the reduction in this areas population of Polar Bears is the result of Spring ice that is TOO THICK? This known and well documented threat to the Polar Bears would be reduced in a warming world and would increase in a cooling world! How ironic that these scientists feel that they have to demonize something that is actually good for the Polar Bears, in order to protect the Polar Bears. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave…”

  25. Do their jobs disappear once Polar Bears are no longer considered threatened ?
    I guess they would ………… but perhaps they should disappear now because of gross scientific inexactitude on the part of the ‘scientists’.

  26. Good work Susan. I am particularly pleased to hear that others are now more critical of Amstrup, especially your mention that “models developed with strong input from long-standing PBSG member Steven Amstrup, were heavily criticized by IUCN modelling experts. The PBSG has been told that Amstrup’s model results will not be accepted as support for the next IUCN Red List assessment.”
    Amstrup always jumped out in the literature as a flip-flopper opportunistically feeding on doomsday scenarios. He first estimated growing and thriving Beaufort Sea bear populations then in just a few years flipped to suggesting a rapidly declining scenario. To support his new stance he published that females were abandoning maternity dens out on the sea ice due to global warming. However just a few years earlier he had argued overhunting, and the taking of cubs for dog food along the Beaufort shoress had forced bears to abandon the shoreline, as a last resort were denning on ice. Such denning behavior was unknown anywhere and early reports of maternity dens on the ice were laughed at. When hunting was restricted, he reported females began returning to the shore, but then a few years later opportunistically blamed global warming.
    Earlier Amstrup has also reported observations that some of his collared bears had been eaten by other bears. Then a few years later he opportunistically writes about the remains of a cannibalized bear in 2006 suggesting he had never seen such a thing ever before, and it must be due to global warming. The Inuit argue cannibalism is common and natural.
    I have to suspect that Amstrup is garnering some big bucks from Polar Bear International which is reaping big donations from their dooms day campaign to save the bears that are increasing. I have to wonder if he gets a percentage. The more gloom and doom the more donations, etc

    • Thanks to the both of you (and rgb as well). It’s good to know that there are still scientists (especially in academia) that still believe in the principles and integrity of science, and the scientific method; and aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

  27. We admire polar bear biologists for their professional dedication to this iconic species, and rightly so. However, while it’s understandable that polar bear biologists are conservation-minded, the public and policy makers need them to be scientists first and advocates for polar bear protection second. Polar bears are currently doing well – data shenanigans to keep them classified as “threatened” undermine the whole point of doing science.
    ————
    Very civil summing up – more civil, IMO, than the perps deserve. I salute your restraint!

    • Regarding the civility demonstrated…
      I second the salute.
      It’s always best not to insult those in need of education if your goal is educating them.
      It is rarely a good idea to assume the motives of another and villify them for an unprovable.
      The entrenched are not motivated with hate.
      Most need a careful approach to the subject that allows some face saving.
      Good on you Susan Crockford! and thank you.
      IMneverHO both sides of this debate can learn from your demonstration 🙂

  28. I would like more information on this ” Records show neither of those outcomes is acceptable to the PBSG.” Do you have a link to those records?
    PS A link to a website that then says the link you are looking for is somewhere in one these multiple articles is not what I am looking for. It is tantamount to saying “it’s on the web.” Source for this quote is somewhere on Dilbert.com 🙂

  29. ‘However, you’d never know that from the output of polar bear researchers, who lately seem to have forgotten that the most crucial part of their job is the unbiased collection and presentation of scientific data.’
    Actually the ‘ crucial part of their job’ is to ensure that it is still there tomorrow , now which approch do you think will support that idea.
    It is the classic climate ‘science’ of IPCC issue , their existence depends on their being a ‘problem ‘ , not usual in itself . The difference is that they largely have control over the ‘proof’ of the problem , hence way you can see the temptation to provide the ‘right data’ not the correct data .

  30. We admire polar bear biologists for their professional dedication
    ***************************************************************************
    since they lie so often I don’t.

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