In September, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released nine recent studies ordered by the USF&WS “to help inform their final decision” on the petition to list all polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The concluding report will shock you. The USGS is the scientific think tank of the US Department of the Interior. The reports employ the most advanced state of knowledge and science available today and have been prepared by the foremost authorities in the world. Nevertheless, they contradict each other in part and are largely based upon assumptions and speculation concerning global warming and partially related ice melt – loss of habitat for bear and seal. Members of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group still seem to be the predominant participants and authors of the reports.
The most shocking report is the last report entitled Forecasting the Range-wide Status of Polar Bears at Selected Times in the 21st Century. Using what it reported to be “the best available information” built upon the other eight reports, it concludes that two-thirds of the world’s current polar bear population will be lost by mid-century. It divides the world’s most up-to-date populations (24,500 in all) into four “ecoregions.” All bear will be “extinct” in three of those four ecoregions, and the total number of bears will decline in the fourth. They will be extinct in two of the four ecoregions within 45 years, and those two ecoregions contain approximately two-thirds of the current range-wide population of the world “regardless of local management actions.” The third ecoregion population “most probably will be extirpated at and beyond 75 years.”
The one ecoregion population expected to survive is the Archipelago that currently has 5,000 bears and consists of the Gulf of Boothia, McClintock Channel, Lancaster Sound, Viscount-Melville Sound, Norwegian Bay and Kane Basin. It currently contains one-fifth of the world’s polar bear population and is expected to be dramatically reduced. It also contains one population that is below carrying capacity and another that Conservation Force long ago petitioned the Service to permit imports from – the Gulf of Boothia.
These conclusions are largely the opinion of one expert without peer review. The conclusions appear to be contradicted by those addressing the particular factors lifted from the other eight reports. The first report addresses the “Uncertainty in Climate Model Projections of Arctic Sea Ice Decline.” It points out that the issue is summer ice, which is lowest in September, not winter ice, which exists six months of the year. (The winter is six months and the autumn, spring and summer are two months each.) The Arctic re-ices in the winter and is expected to continue to do so. Thus the issue is the amount of ice melt in the summer. The uncertainty of the projection of Arctic climate change “is relatively high” and projections of summer sea ice are even more uncertain. “Inherent unpredictability would prevent us from issuing detailed forecasts of climate change beyond about a decade,” the report states.
Some reports assume that bears will be extirpated from an area and will not use it if it has less than 50 percent ice coverage. Other reports state that ice coverage of 50 percent or more is simply a preferred habitat state. That is a substantial difference that is not taken into account.
One report was on the population status of polar bear in the Northern Beaufort Sea because of its connection to the Southern Beaufort Sea. It concluded that “currently the Northern Beaufort polar bear population appears to be stable” and that “ice conditions remain suitable for feeding through much of the summer.” Some declines in the mid-1970’s and 1980’s “were associated with periods of very heavy ice” but not at the present. There is actually a “trend toward a slow increase in population today,” but “not statistically significant.”
Another report was done on the population status of Southern Hudson Bay. “It is the most southerly population in the species’ range.” The finding is that the Southern Hudson Bay population has not changed from the mid-1980’s.
“Although less available habitat will likely reduce polar bear populations, exact relationships between habitat losses and population demographics remain unknown,” according to the one report predicting the future distribution of polar bear. Nearly all the reports repeat the notion that the loss of summer sea ice is taking place “faster than forecasted.” However, in contradiction, three of the past six years are considered “good years” (2001-2003) with improved ice conditions. It is inherently unsound to put weight on any short-term rises and falls. The polar bear scientists demonstrate a bias when they step beyond the bounds of the climate and ice models to draw their conclusions outside of their expertise. In fact, one report on the Southern Beaufort Sea states “if conditions were to remain similar to 2001-2003, the population would increase over the next 45 to 100 years,” yet the reports harp on select years in isolation following that period rather than observance of the expert climate models. The polar bear scientists now claim to know better than the climatologists.
The more than 600 pages of reports can be found on the web at http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/special/polar%5Fbears.