Are Polar Bears Really Endangered?

polarbearscience

Christina Wu at the Urban Times (July 3, 2014) recently asked this question. She came up with a surprisingly balanced argument but some predictable responses from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) biologists. As a consequence, she overlooked some critical facts that make a big difference to the answer.

Figure 1. Are polar bears really endangered? The US Fish and Wildlife Service thinks so, but only because Steven Amstrup, based on a computer model projecting sea ice out to 2050, said so (Amstrup et al. 2007). This information has been used by the Center for Biological Diversity and other NGOs, like WWF and Polar Bears International (where Amstrup is now employed), to solicit donations. Figure 1. Predictions of polar bear population declines by 2050 are being used by the Center for Biological Diversity, WWF and Polar Bears International to solicit donations.

Wu stated that, for the populations for which we have numbers (see my discussion here), polar bear populations have been increasing overall since the 1970s. She then asked:

“So if polar bear populations are increasing, what’s all the fuss about?”

She went to PBSG biologists for answers. She talked to Elizabeth (Lily) Peacock, now a medical student, and Geoff York, who is employed full time for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Apparently, they…

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