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
The food lockers have arrived in Kaktovik and are being assembled for testing during the winter of 2011-2012. The results from this project will help inform the design and use of bear-proof lockers in coastal communities throughout the region.