Activist heads explode as USFWS says oil activities pose minimal risk to polar bears in AK

From Polar Bear Science

Posted on May 30, 2021 | 

Apparently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under Joe Biden agrees with my conclusion that oil company activities in Alaska pose minimal risk to polar bears (Crockford 2019, 2020, 2021). Although this ruling is not yet final, they have proposed that oil exploration and extraction activities on the North Slope of Alaska can proceed over the next five years.

After noting that no major offshore oil spills have ever taken place in the Alaskan portion of the Beaufort Sea (see map below) and that all spills to date have been on land with no impact on polar bears, the proposed rule in the 200+ page assessment states:

The Service does not anticipate any lethal or injurious take that would remove individual polar bears or Pacific walruses from the population or prevent their successful reproduction. Harassment events are anticipated to be limited to human interactions that lead to short-term behavioral disturbances. These disturbances would not affect the rates of recruitment or survival for the walrus and polar bear stocks. These proposed regulations do not authorize lethal take, and we do not anticipate any lethal take will occur.

A ‘take’ in USFWS language can be a kill, an injury, or simply ‘harassment’ that disturbs an animal in some way. In other words, their assessment concludes that no animals are likely to be killed or injured and that any disturbance is likely to be minor (non-life threatening). In part, this is because few polar bear females use this area for denning in any given year. However, to protect the few that do, the industry will do aerial infrared surveys to locate any dens in the area before winter work begins and take steps to avoid disturbance (see also page 100-106 in the document). A ‘take’ does not include any impact from an oil spill, which is illegal but considered very unlikely in this circumstance.

Compare the above to the over-the-top language used by the Center for Biological Diversity (28 May 2021) in their press release in response to this proposal [my bold]:

The Biden administration issued a proposed rule today allowing oil companies operating in the Beaufort Sea and Western Arctic to harass polar bears and Pacific walruses when drilling or searching for oil for the next five years.

“It’s maddening to see the Biden administration allowing oil companies to continue their noisy, harmful onslaught on polar bears. Oil in this sensitive habitat should stay in the ground,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “President Biden promised bold action to address the climate crisis, yet his administration is proposing to allow business-as-usual oil drilling in the Arctic. Polar bears and walruses could pay a terrible price.”

The Southern Beaufort Sea population is the most imperiled polar bear population in the world. With only about 900 bears remaining, scientists have determined that the survival of every individual bear is vital to the survival and recovery of the population.

The heavy equipment used in seismic exploration and drilling activities can crush polar bears in their dens or scare polar bears out of their dens too early, leaving cubs to die of exposure or abandonment by their mothers. The noise generated by routine operations can disturb essential polar bear behavior and increase their energy output.

Walruses are also incredibly sensitive to human disturbance. Without summer sea ice for resting, walrus mothers and calves have been forced to come ashore, where they are vulnerable to being trampled to death in stampedes when startled by noise.

Wow: “The Southern Beaufort Sea population is the most imperiled polar bear population in the world“. A few years ago, Western Hudson Bay bears were all over the news for their threatened status. I guess that classification changes depending on the political circumstance.

Even if some “scientists have determined that the survival of every individual bear is vital to the survival and recovery of the population” it is also a fact that other scientists at the USFWS have determined that the risks to those bears from oil industry activity is minimal. It appears scientists, even government scientists, can disagree. Who would have thought?

Walruses may be “incredibly sensitive to human disturbance” but the USFWS proposed ruling states that there have been no more than 38 walruses sighted within the areas used by the oil industry in the Southern Beaufort between 1995 and 2015 (about 2 per year)(pages 107-110) in the document). Sightings of walrus in the Southern Beaufort are considered ‘extralimital’ or outside the normal range (and rare). In other words, no walrus herds of mothers and calves come ashore in the areas where oil exploration and extraction are proposed, so the stated vulnerability of them being “trampled to death in stampedes when startled by noise” is absolutely irrelevant; moot; of no consequence.

The bold statement that walrus “could pay a terrible price” when they don’t even inhabit this region is activist logic of the highest order.

Steven Amstrup from the activist organization Polar Bears International (pictured above with polar bear cubs) has lobbied heavily against oil activity in the Southern Beaufort in recent years (Amstrup 2018a, b; 2019), using similar exaggerated language, but has so far not commented on this proposed ruling.

Bottom line: When you overstate risks in such an obvious way, you should be prepared to be ignored.

USFWS 2021. Marine mammals; Incidental take during specific activities: North Slope, Alaska. Federal Register, in press. Docket FWS-R7-ES-2021-0037 [to be published 1 June 2021,

Other stories on the bigger oil project decision:

Interior Dept. files brief defending Willow project review (Alaska Journal of Commerce, 28 May 2021)

Biden administration defends Trump-era Alaska oil decision (CBC News Canada, 27 May 2021)

Biden administration throws support behind massive Willow oil project in NPR-A (Alaska Public Media, 27 May 2021)

Biden administration defends huge Alaska oil drilling project (New York Times, 26 May 2021)


Amstrup, S.C. 2018a. Proposed oil exploration plan would put polar bear population at an unacceptable risk. Opinion, 25 September, The Hill.

Amstrup, S.C. 2018b. Review of the SAE proposal for SEISMIC EXPLORATION ON THE COASTAL PLAIN. Polar Bears International, August 15, 2018. PDF here.

Amstrup, S.C. 2019. Written Testimony of Dr. Steven C. Amstrup Chief Scientist, Polar Bears International before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the Committee on Natural Resources United States House of Representatives legislative hearing on ‘The Need to Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain’ 26 March 2019 download/testimony-polar-bears-international-amstrup  PDF here.

Crockford, S.J. 2019The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Crockford, S.J. 2020. State of the Polar Bear Report 2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2021. The State of the Polar Bear Report 2020. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 48, London. pdf here.

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Bruce Cobb
May 31, 2021 6:28 am

Hoo-boy. When they aren’t busy wetting their panties about “carbon pollution”, they are screaming hysterically about the imagined and completely bogus environmental damages created by “dirty” oil.

Bryan A
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
May 31, 2021 11:39 am

the only real threat of damages caused by oil exploration on Arctic Biota is that caused by Environmeltal Extremists when they attempt to disrupt operations or sabotage pipeline operations

Jon R
May 31, 2021 6:51 am

Two things have lifted ALL of humanity, capitalism and hydrocarbons.
Both under constant attack by the people who claim to love everyone the mostest.

Reply to  Jon R
May 31, 2021 9:21 am

Capitalism has done nothing for Humanity, but has done much for Marxists. Capitalism is a pejorative created by Marx.

Free Enterprise has done much for humanity.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Drake
May 31, 2021 8:56 pm


Reply to  Drake
June 1, 2021 11:37 am

Renowned economist, Deirdre N. McCloskey, substitutes “innovationism” as a replacement for the term ‘capitalism’

Reply to  Jon R
May 31, 2021 11:21 am

And use them the mostest.

May 31, 2021 7:01 am

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT PICTURE? It appears to be an adult bear underneath ….dead or alive? I can’t imagine a polar bear mom allowing a human to approach her and cubs. Also, I discussed with an authority on bears…Smokey Bear….and he said his cousins in the far north are doing fine….and would simply move south if more food was needed…..and Smokey reminded….only you can prevent forest fires.

Reply to  Anti_griff
May 31, 2021 7:03 am

Probably darted for a health check.

Steve Case
Reply to  Anti_griff
May 31, 2021 7:17 am

Beat me to it, yeah Dr. Amstrup and all his “Scientist” cronies fly around the Arctic in helicopters and shoot polar bears with tranquilizer darts so they can collar and “study” their movements. But that’s OK and not harassment.

Reply to  Steve Case
May 31, 2021 8:06 am

Polar bears hear helicopters long before helicopter riding researchers can spot polar bears, causing the polar bears to hide.
Making helicopter surveys of polar bear populations a total waste of time and money.

That female was likely outfitted with a tracking device and found by GPS telemetry.

Steve Case
Reply to  ATheoK
May 31, 2021 8:26 am

You are probably right about that.

Reply to  ATheoK
May 31, 2021 9:05 am

In MN, the DNR had to save the moose by flying in helicopters while shooting darts at calves. Then they attached tracking collars while the mother fled.

They couldn’t understand why the moose kept dying. No mention of wolves.

Meanwhile, on Royal Isle the moose population is exploding as the wolf population has dwindled to a few because of inbreeding.

Fascinating science.

Reply to  Derg
May 31, 2021 9:25 am

Some wild animals will abandon their young if the have human scent. I guess polar bears are ok if their cubs smell like Amstrup.

May 31, 2021 7:09 am

Phew that’s a relief this wasn’t a Trump Fisheries and Wildlife call. Otherwise there’d be more looting and burning from the usual suspects with White Bears Matter!

Mumbles McGuirck
Reply to  observa
May 31, 2021 8:00 am

Your local Target store has a lot to answer for in polar bear treatment. Plus, they have all those large screen TVs.

Reply to  Mumbles McGuirck
May 31, 2021 8:39 am

You didn’t happen to note what aisle the TVs were in, did you?

It would be a shame if it got out that they were in Aisle 9 at the back of the store.

Ron Long
May 31, 2021 7:38 am

No danger to polar bears? What about the danger to humans from polar bears? Any (most) humans in the area are petro workers, and are not considered important? In a somewhat related story Yellowstone Park reports the first bear attack of the season.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Ron Long
May 31, 2021 9:45 am

comment image

Reply to  Mike McMillan
May 31, 2021 11:25 am

His trousers are brown…coincidence?

Rory Forbes
Reply to  Mike McMillan
May 31, 2021 2:44 pm

Mmmmm … lunch!

Bryan A
Reply to  Rory Forbes
May 31, 2021 2:49 pm

tender and juicy on the inside, once you get past the crappy tasting exterior

May 31, 2021 7:53 am

The polar bear issue aside, it is interesting to note how environmentalism has changed. At one time the Arctic was considered pristine and off limits to human development, however, now that LNG has become the transition fuel of choice to reduce coal consumption, the old environmental philosophy is now passé. And you see the same thing with raptors and windmills, deforestation and biofuels, biomass and logging, solar farms and desert flora and fauna, ditto for rare earth mines, etc.

It is good to see Susan Crockford is following the actual science, calling it like she sees it and is not beholden to any preordained position… however, it is interesting to see the shift is environmentalism.

It appears now you can transgress any of the older environmental taboos if reducing carbon dioxide is the goal.

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  Anon
May 31, 2021 8:22 am

Biden has closed the ANWR to drilling again, I thought.

Steve Case
Reply to  Anon
May 31, 2021 8:25 am

Good list, thanks for posting

Gas wells to replace coal. 
Raptors and windmills. 
Biomass and logging. 
Solar farms and desert flora and fauna. 
Rare earth mines.

Mumbles McGuirck
May 31, 2021 7:57 am

I love the photo of Steven Amstrup harassing polar bear cubs in a way no oil rig worker would ever dream of doing. Talk about disrupting their environment all for a photo op.

Bill Rocks
Reply to  Mumbles McGuirck
May 31, 2021 9:15 am

It would be a federal crime if someone else did that. Jail time and big fine. And, deservedly so. No need to approach or disturb the bears in this area without govt license to do so.

A memory. I think it was during the 1980s, a federal scientist was camping on the coastal plain inland from the Beaufort Sea. Small grizzley bear attached her in her tent and mangled both of her arms. She had to work with prothetics doing microscope work, I think, after long rehab. Very sad, very dangerous.

Bill Rocks
Reply to  Bill Rocks
May 31, 2021 9:45 am

attacked not attached

May 31, 2021 7:58 am

“Activist heads explode”

How would anyone know?
e.g., amstruppy; irrational before; irrational afterwards.

What is curious is whether biddy’s Administration is trying to change that announcement behind the scenes?

Curious George
Reply to  ATheoK
May 31, 2021 8:49 am

They are probably trying to change the Director and two Deputy Directors.

Mike From Au
May 31, 2021 8:04 am

Frankly, if we could at least provide hair dryer nozzle stations in the antarctic so polar bears could at least dry their hair from time to time and enjoy some warmth, it would be a relief to me, knowing what a pain the cold can be 🙂

Reply to  Mike From Au
May 31, 2021 9:38 am

All the polar bears in the “antarctic” have dry hair….no dryers needed.

May 31, 2021 8:12 am

Most of the arctic is uninhabited. About half of America is uninhabited. link

Most people can’t comprehend how much unoccupied space there is. Polar bears can easily avoid humans if they want to.

Curious George
Reply to  commieBob
May 31, 2021 8:46 am

Is the New York City really 5% uninhabited? (my estimate, but there is some green there)

Reply to  Curious George
May 31, 2021 9:30 am

Yep, Central Park.

I still hope when TRUMP! gets back in he will declare NYC Central Park as a wilderness area, require all man made features to be removed, and only allow people to walk or ride horses, no bikes or other machinery allowed. Even put up a BIG wall around it to keep people out.

Or better yet, flatten the whole thing and cover it with solar panels.

Then those leftist voters in that city can reap what they have sown.

Bryan A
Reply to  Drake
May 31, 2021 11:46 am

Solar requires Battery Backup so Battery Park will also need to be covered with the latter and cordoned off as well. They could make “The Battery” the worlds tallest building and give the upper third floors a Copper Cladding

Coach Springer
May 31, 2021 8:21 am

This issue will eventually be decided on the basis of a deranged animal lover being eaten by a polar bear that had wandered into a drilling site as he/she tries to wash oil from the bear with Dawn dishwashing liquid. “It is time” “to do something.”

May 31, 2021 9:44 am

I’m reminded of what one young socialist told me.
“I’m not interested in being relatively safe. I want to be safe.”

Minimal risk isn’t good enough. Only guaranteed safety will be good enough.

Rory Forbes
May 31, 2021 10:00 am

Seeing triplet cubs is a very good sign of a healthy mother (and probably a healthy population). Having twins is good, but having triplets is one of the reasons the polar bear population is increasing.

May 31, 2021 10:28 am

Didn’t know there are polar bears in ArKansas, just a lot of RINO’s.

June 1, 2021 12:30 am

Now that polar bears are safe,spare a thought for Australian wild camels which roam the outback.
Australia has the largest numbers of wild camels in the world
Called feral camels these nomads munch up the foliage and then expel about 45 kilograms of methane (about one ton of CO2 equivalent emissions) each year from either end.
This makes the problem of these feral camels almost as severe as emissions from worldwide human cremation.
Over a decade ago,it was thought there were about 1.2 million roaming the deserts in central Australia.
The Carbon Farming Initiative Act was passed in Australia on 8 December 2011.
Among its regulations to fight climate change the CFI calls for:
” The reduction of methane emissions through the management in a humane manner, of feral goats, feral deer, feral pigs,or feral camels.”
By management, they mean shooting the camels.
As a result, the feral camels were culled by truck and from helicopters.
By 2013,the numbers of wild camels were down to 300,000 after the original numbers estimate was revised from 1.2 million to 600,000.
It must be acknowledged that feral camels do significant damage to the environment, some infrastructure and some culturally significant sites.
Nevertheless, the wild camels seem to have suffered disproportionately in the quest to reduce global emissions.
(h/t Steve Goreman,” The Mad ,Mad,Mad World of Climatism”).

Reply to  Herbert
June 1, 2021 6:05 am

Are camels native to Australia? If not they need removed so the native species can thrive. Nothing wrong with the climate, it is constantly changing, just as it always has.

June 1, 2021 6:06 am

More workers means more food waste in dumps which means bigger buffet for Polar Bears. Win/Win!

Michael Nagy
June 1, 2021 7:28 am

Remember when Caribou were “thought to be” endangered by the Alaska Pipeline? Well it turns out the pipeline, which is above ground and the oil inside must be heated to move through the pipe, has caused an abundance of lichen growth which caribou live on. Who knew?

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