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Polar bears may have quadrupled in number despite melting arctic ice, according to study

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Michael Bastasch, DCNF

(Photo by Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images)
  • A new book claims the number of polar bears may have quadrupled in the last 50 years despite melting Arctic sea ice.
  • Scientists predicted massive polar bear population declines as sea ice retreated, but that hasn’t happened, the book says.
  • “It’s a wonderful conservation success story,” said zoologist and author Susan Crockford.

Polar bear numbers may have quadrupled in the last 50 years, according to a new book critiquing the alarmist predictions of polar bear population collapse.

“My scientific estimates make perfect sense and they tally with what the Inuit and other Arctic residents are seeing on the ground,” Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist, said in a statement Tuesday on her book’s release.

Crockford’s book, “The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened,” argues that, in contrast to the dire predictions made by experts over a decade ago, polar bears are thriving. In fact, she argues polar populations may have quadrupled since the 1960s from roughly 10,000 to 40,000.

“Almost everywhere polar bears come into contact with people, they are much more common than they used to be. It’s a wonderful conservation success story,” said Crockford, who’s also an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

Crockford, through her personal blog, has criticized those dire predictions. Crockford says polar bear populations have risen or stabilized in the last 15 yearsor so despite the fact that sea ice levels declined faster than experts predicted.

Officially, polar bear numbers are estimated to be 25,000 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). But that represents a “reasonable range in numbers,” according to PBSG, and is not a firm figure.

Crockford’s book critiques that estimate and argues it’s likely much higher. Crockford claims polar bear experts have tried to obfuscate and low-ball abundance estimates — obviously this argument hasn’t earned her many friends in the scientific community.

In fact, a group of scientists, including polar bear experts Steven Amstrup and Ian Stirling, published a study personally attacking Crockford, labeling her as part of a web of “deniers” that spread misinformation about science — the study considered disagreeing with its authors as misinformation.

The study issued corrections once it was pointed out its authors got basic factual information wrong, and other researchers ripped into the study’s methodology and data.

“A few unscrupulous people have been trying to destroy my reputation,” Crockford said in a statement. “But the facts are against them, and they have failed.”

Former Vice President Al Gore featured polar bears swimming for their lives in his 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth,” sparking widespread fear that Arctic sea ice melt would bring bears to the brink of extinction.

Such concerns spurred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2008, making it the first species to be listed over future worries about global warming.

Polar bear experts predicted in 2007 that polar bear populations could decline nearly 70 percent from projected Arctic ice melt in the mid-century. But when sea ice declines outpaced model projections, polar bear numbers didn’t dramatically drop off.

Indeed, recent studies found polar bear populations are doing fine. A 2016 study by Canadian researchers, for example, found “no reliable evidence to support the contention that polar bears are currently experiencing a climate crisis.”

Norwegian researchers found in 2015 the Barents Sea polar bear population grew 42 percent over the previous 11 years, despite diminishing ice cover.

Likewise, there’s evidence polar bears survived ice-free periods over the last 1.5 million years — that’s according to a 2016 study by U.S. Geological Survey and University of Alaska-Fairbanks researchers.

Amstrup, a Crockford critic, has called into question claims that polar bear populations were lower in the 1960s because of the lack or records — though he also admitted that about half of modern population estimates were “educated guesses.”

“But the most important point is that whatever happened in the past is really irrelevant,” Amstrup wrote on Polar Bears International’s website. “Polar bear habitat is disappearing due to global warming. Even the most careful on-the-ground management doesn’t matter if polar bears don’t have the required habitat.”

Crockford’s book was published on March 16 by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a U.K.-based think tank chaired by Lord Nigel Lawson, who served in former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet.

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