As the sea-ice platform disappears and with it opportunities to travel and hunt seals, polar bears are moving inland in their quest for food. As a result, polar bears are showing up in places where they have never been seen before— including human communities. Tired and hungry, these bears take more risks by frequenting town dumps, subsistence food caches, even pet food left outside. Already, Arctic communities have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of polar bears congregating along the coast in late summer and fall.
Polar bears that wander into villages can be very dangerous to people. Most Alaskan communities do not have the proper equipment or training in bear deterrence, so conflicts usually result in death for the bear.
How We’re Helping
Because climate change makes permafrost less dependable in summer months, Arctic communities are looking for alternatives to the ice cellars where they have traditionally stored subsistence food. In 2011, Defenders of Wildlife, in partnership with World Wildlife Fund, launched a pilot program to develop polar-bear-resistant food lockers in the coastal community of Kaktovik.
In addition to finding ways to discourage polar bears from accessing food in coastal communities, Defenders is also exploring safe ways to feed polar bears on land. In June of 2011, Defenders worked in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to host a workshop of science experts to examine the benefits and challenges of diversionary feeding as a management tool to reduce human/polar bear conflicts. The results of the workshop will inform the important decisions regarding polar bear management in Alaska.
Where We Are Today
We are assessing the results of the food locker pilot program with USFWS. The results from this project will help inform the future design and use of bear-proof lockers in coastal communities throughout the region.
To build on the food locker program, and as part of a larger human polar bear conflict reduction effort, Defenders of Wildlife teamed up with the USFWS, the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and WWF to host an international workshop focused on sharing polar bear deterrent methods, tools and lessons learned. The workshop participants included USFWS polar bear staff, the 12 community leaders or Commissioners from the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and WWF sponsored Chukotka polar bear leaders from Russia. The three day meeting was a great success, and helped all involved to prioritize the tools, techniques and equipment that many of the communities will need to successfully deter polar bears going forward. One of the priorities was the request for a children’s polar bear safety video. Defenders is currently working with the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and USFWS to create this video for use in communities across Alaska’s arctic, as well as translated versions for Russia and Canada as well.