Guest essay by Jim Steele
Since I can ever remember, my greatest joys in life came from exploring nature. During my childhood, I coveted every Golden Nature Guide and eagerly read every edition of National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick series. Sadly the National Wildlife Federation seems to have devolved into an organization eager to profit from climate alarmism. Instead of enhancing our understanding of nature as they once had, they have chosen fear mongering with twisted facts. Instead of providing honest information that advances wiser environmental stewardship, they are ‘crying wolf’ and undermining scientific credibility. Crying wolf will only do more harm than good.
Every March for over 70 years NWF sponsored National Wildlife Week. In years gone by I saw this as a wonderful positive, suggesting people stop and think about win-win scenarios for people and wildlife But now Ranger Rick and the NWF join David Attenborough in my list of fallen nature heroes who let the politics of climate change hijack meaningful science. Those who visit the NWF’s website and click on “Threats to Wildlife” will see Global Warming at the top of its list. And when the naive click on their list of climate-threatened species, they might not realize just how devoid of reality NWF claims have become. Here is a quick comparison between reality and their narrative for their first 5 threatened species : polar bears, moose, pika, ringed seals, and waterfowl. I encourage you to let them know that next year’s National Wildlife Week would serve a much higher purpose, if they provided more honest and objective narratives.
“One of the most important waterfowl breeding areas in North America is the Prairie Pothole Region on both sides of the U.S./Canadian border in the northern Great Plains. Models of future drought conditions in the region due to global warming project significant declines in Prairie Pothole wetlands–up to 91 percent.
This could lead to a 9-69 percent reduction in the abundance of ducks breeding in the region, affecting populations of mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern pintails, canvasbacks, redheads and ruddy ducks throughout North America’s flyways.”
In 2014 the US Fish and Wildlife Service reported the exact opposite trend. From Flyways.US, “The estimate of 49.2 million breeding ducks was 8% higher than last year’s estimate of 45.6 million, and 43% above the long-term average. “
Since the 1985, low duck populations have doubled thanks to efforts of wildlife managers and private hunting clubs like Ducks Unlimited who are restoring prime breeding habitat such as the prairie potholes. As I had presented earlier, in contrast to James Hansen’s prediction of apocalyptic CO2‑caused droughts that can only be prevented by reducing CO2 emissions, humans have been restoring watersheds and making the land wetter than before, even during severe natural droughts. It’s not just the lost credibility from “crying wolf”, but Hansen and NWF are advocating wrong and harmful solutions. The greatest threat to the ducks’ breeding habitat is currently subsidized agriculture. Due to climate alarmism, government subsidies are promoting the conversion of prairie potholes into cornfields. That not only threatens breeding habitat, but further depletes regional aquifers.
Here are a few selected graphs of population trends from that US Fish and Wildlife Service 2014 report.
#4 Ringed Seals
“Arctic sea ice has contracted dramatically over the last decade, and climate models predict that continuing sea ice decline may soon lead to conditions insufficient to support seals. Ringed seals seldom come ashore, depending almost exclusively on sea ice for their reproduction and livelihood.”
Ringed Seals are the most abundant of Arctic seals and they are most abundant wherever sea ice is thinner. Their abundance declines rapidly in regions with thick multi‑year sea ice. Ringed seals only depend on sea ice for breeding and molting from late March to mid June, and there has been little change in that seasonal fast‑ice during that season. When NWF bemoans that “Arctic sea ice has contracted dramatically over the last decade”, they are referring to reduced September sea ice, which is meaningless for breeding and molting seals. In fact, NWF’s alarm contradicts peer‑reviewed research that documents why reduced summer ice benefits ringed seals.
As discussed previously in the benefits of less Arctic ice, I reported: 1) ringed seals require thin ice to create their winter breathing holes. 2) Less summer ice promotes more photosynthesis and more plankton. 3) Less summer ice promotes greater productivity that increases the abundance of Arctic cod, which the seals rely on to fatten for the winter. 4) Researchers observed heavier ice was detrimental to ringed seal survival in the 1990s similar to other researchers who reported heavy ice conditions in the mid-1970s and 1980s as the major cause of ringed seal reproductive failures and abundance decline.
“Once they move upslope to reach the top and find the temperatures still too warm, the pika has no place else to go.”
“In fact, they have already disappeared from over one-third of their previously known habitat in Oregon and Nevada. Now, the situation is so dire that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the pika for protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
Extensive surveys by the US Forest Service contradict the NWF’s cry that warming is forcing pika upslope, and with “no place left to go” face extinction. As discussed here, 19% of the currently known pika populations in California and Nevada are at lower elevations than ever documented by any study, including benchmark studies during the cooler early 1900s. Further north in the Columbia River Gorge, another independent researcher also found pika at much lower elevations, surviving at temperatures much higher than their models had predicted.
NWF’s used the alarmists’ most commonly cherry-picked statement that pika have “already disappeared from over one-third of their previously known habitat.” That figure came from a paper that only sampled a small subset of the greater pika populations, and purposefully limited the study to more isolated Nevada habitat. Habitat isolation reduces the normal frequency of re-colonization events, yet subsequent surveys found a few “extinct” colonies were re‑colonized a few years laer. Pika expert Dr. Andrew Smith’s testimony to the California Department of Fish and Game stating pika were not threatened, stated why that one third figure was deceptive:
“This statement refers to the well researched, documented and presented cases of a sub-set of patches historically occupied by pikas in the Great Basin investigated by Erik Beever and colleagues. Unfortunately, to reach “one third extinct” – again, you have to have a numerator and a denominator…and the sample used is a subset of all possible localities. Even in this relatively restricted part of the Great Basin, many of Beever’s sites are not in a mountain range, and of those which are, pikas are extant in other localities in the same mountain range. Thus, one would have to tabulate all pika habitat in the region to make this claim, which has not been done.”
“Moose are in jeopardy across the U.S. – from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine; to Minnesota and Michigan; and even Montana. One of America’s most iconic animals is at risk of becoming just a memory. It’s time to take action on climate change”
“The New Hampshire moose population has plummeted by more than 40 percent in the last decade from over 7,500 moose to just 4,000 today, and biologists attribute some of this decline to increasing parasite loads influenced by shorter winters caused by climate change.”
“However, this rich diversity of fish and game, and the economy that depends on it, is at risk from a warming world. In New Hampshire, declining moose numbers have lead to a 80 percent reduction in moose hunting permits, down from 675 in 2007 to just 124 [permits]in 2014. As the moose population drops, the recreational activities and associated revenue surrounding the species is sure to follow.”
Moose are well known to undergo booms and busts, and the current drop to about 4000 individuals, is still 3 times higher than the late 1970s. The NWF’s alarm cry again cherry-picked the facts. As discussed here, in New England, moose were more abundant than deer when the Pilgrims arrived. But due to deforestation for farmland and overhunting, moose have been absent from Massachusetts and Vermont for 200 years. In 1901 less than 20 moose were believed to inhabit New Hampshire. And in contrast to alarmists’ global warming theory suggesting global warming is forcing species northward, since 1980 moose have migrated south from New Hampshire into Massachusetts and Connecticut. New Hampshire’s moose population had stagnated at fewer than 15 individuals since the mid 1800s and did not begin to rebound until the 1970s. As the climate warmed, moose numbers exploded. In 1988 there were 1600, and by the late 1990s numbers more than quadrupled to 7500. That increase resulted in more moose‑car collisions resulting in a public clamor for increased moose hunts, so by 2007 hunting permits had soared. Now that moose have eaten themselves out of habitat, their numbers as well as hunting permits have declined.
#1 Polar Bear
“Population sizes decreasing”
“As climate change melts sea ice, the U.S. Geological Survey projects that two thirds of polar bears will disappear by 2050. This dramatic decline in the polar bear is occurring in our lifetime, which is but a miniscule fraction of the time polar bears have roamed the vast Arctic seas.”
“In just 20 years the ice-free period in Hudson Bay has increased by an average of 20 days, cutting short polar bears’ seal hunting season by nearly three weeks. The ice is freezing later in the fall, but it is the earlier spring ice melt that is especially difficult for the bears. They have a narrower timeframe in which to hunt during the critical season when seal pups are born. As a result, average bear weight has dropped by 15 percent, causing reproduction rates to decline. The Hudson Bay population is down more than 20 percent.”
As mentioned above, harsher winters and heavier ice is detrimental to ringed seals, the bears’ main prey. When seals suffer from thicker ice, so do bears. As I have discussed here and Dr. Susan Crockford here, researchers have observed that bear numbers and their body condition both decline in years with thick spring time ice.
Claims that the bears weight dropped by 15 percent is “zombie data” from the late 1990s. Unpublished data reveals bears body condition (a measure of their weight relative to length) has increased since the 1997 in the western Hudson Bay. Not publishing this observed rebound in body condition is deceptive. In the South Beaufort Sea population, the body condition for 95% of all the other bears, both adult males and females, sub-adult females as well as all cubs, showed no signs of nutritional stress. Adult females represented about 34% of all captures, and despite being under the most stress due to an eight-month fast while giving birth and nursing their cubs, their body condition had improved!
Based on many decades of evidence, the Inuit declare it is “the time of the most polar bears.” In contrast, reports of the polar bear decline have been based on cherry-picked short‑term trends. Here are some longer‑term trends to put polar bear population fluctuations into perspective:
-The “Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada” listed Canada’s polar bears only as a species of “special concern” in 1991 and has examined and reconfirmed that status ever since despite political pressure from climate alarmists. In making that designation they reported that population models had projected that only 4 of 13 subpopulations (approximately 28% of 15,500 polar bears in Canada) have a high risk of declining in the next 36 years. Although some declines in Western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea were attributed to climate change, most declines were attributed to unsustainable harvest in Kane Basin and Baffin Bay. In contrast, seven subpopulations (43% of the total population) are projected to be stable or increasing. Trends could not be projected for two subpopulations (29% of the total population).
– Derocher’s PBSG website designates the Davis Strait population as “declining”. However based on 1980 estimates of 900 bears, the population has more than doubled. By 1993 that estimate rose to 1400 and by 2007 the estimate stood at about 2150 bears. If you click on the comments to find the rationale for listing them as “declining” you would find only empty speculation: “New estimates of natural survival and current harvest suggest the population may begin to decline. Scientific and local knowledge suggest the population has significantly increased in the past.”
– PBSG expert Oystein Wiig studied bears of Svalbard, and in 1998 published: “The population was totally protected in 1973 and probably doubled in size from 1970 to 1980”
– The Fox Basin encompasses the northern end of the Hudson Bay. In 1996 studies estimated the bear population to be 2119 and then was raised to 2300 bears in 2004. The results from a recent aerial survey published in 2012 now estimate that the Fox Basin embraces about 2580 bears. Instead of listing this population as increasing, or at least stable, Derocher’s PBSG “hid” their thriving population with an odd “data deficient” designation.
– Only 333 bears were believed to inhabit the Gulf of Boothia in 1984 but the numbers quadrupled by theyear 2000. Estimates of 900 were established in the 1990s and “following the completion of a mark-recapture inventory in spring 2000, the subpopulation was raised to 1523 ± 285 bears” Although those studies would support the Inuit claims of increasing bears, the PBSG designated this population as “Stable.”
– The Lancaster Sound subpopulation was estimated at 2541 ± 391 based on an analysis of both historical and current mark-recapture data in 1997. The PBSG writes that population is considerably larger than the previous estimate of 1675. However they oddly listed this population as declining.
-The Western Hudson Bay population is one of only two populations that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada referenced as declining possibly due to climate change. PBSG expert Ian Stirling had published a paper in 1999 calculating that the population had grown from about 500 bears in 1981 to about 1100 bears in 1997. Derocher estimated this region held about 1000 bears in 1995 and believed “the population had been lower during the 1960s”. The Canadian Wildlife Service’s model later suggested that the number of bears had dropped from about 1100 in 1994 to about 950 in 2004. They predicted the number of bears would continue to drop to as low as 600 in the next 15 years due to global warming. However the latest aerial survey by the Nunavut government, “Western Hudson Bay Bear Aerial Surveys, 2011” estimated that the population now stands at over 1000 bears.
-Southern Beaufort Sea population had increased from approximately 500 females in 1967 to over 1000 in 1998 according to PBSG expert Steven Amstrup in 2001. Assuming females represented half the total, Amstrup believed the total population likely exceeded 2000 bears. However for the purpose of setting safe hunting quotas he decided to be conservative and officially designated the population at 1800 bears.
It’s a sad commentary on the politics of climate scientists when the once beloved Ranger Rick is now used to promote false facts and climate alarmism to our school children.