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Demographic and Traditional Knowledge Perspectives on the Current Status of Canadian Polar Bear Subpopulations

January 23, 2016
By Jordan York, Martha Dowsley, Adam Cornwell, Miroslaw Kuc & Mitchell Taylor

Study Finds No Support For The Perspective That Polar Bears Within Or Shared In Canada Are Currently In Any Sort Of Climate Crisis

From the Abstract:

"Subpopulation growth rates and the probability of decline at current harvest levels were determined for 13 subpopulations of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) that are within or shared with Canada based on mark–recapture estimates of population numbers and vital rates, and harvest statistics using population viability analyses (PVA). Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) on subpopulation trend agreed with the seven stable/increasing results and one of the declining results, but disagreed with PVA status of five other declining subpopulations. The decline in the Baffin Bay subpopulation appeared to be due to over-reporting of harvested numbers from outside Canada. The remaining four disputed subpopulations (Southern Beaufort Sea, Northern Beaufort Sea, Southern Hudson Bay, and Western Hudson Bay) were all incompletely mark–recapture (M-R) sampled, which may have biased their survival and subpopulation estimates. Three of the four incompletely sampled subpopulations were PVA identified as nonviable (i.e., declining even with zero harvest mortality). TEK disagreement was nonrandom with respect to M-R sampling protocols. Cluster analysis also grouped subpopulations with ambiguous demographic and harvest rate estimates separately from those with apparently reliable demographic estimates based on PVA probability of decline and unharvested subpopulation growth rate criteria. We suggest that the correspondence between TEK and scientific results can be used to improve the reliability of information on natural systems and thus improve resource management. Considering both TEK and scientific information, we suggest that the current status of Canadian polar bear subpopulations in 2013 was 12 stable/increasing and one declining (Kane Basin). We do not find support for the perspective that polar bears within or shared with Canada are currently in any sort of climate crisis. We suggest that monitoring the impacts of climate change (including sea ice decline) on polar bear subpopulations should be continued and enhanced and that adaptive management practices are warranted."