The Remarkably Simple Initiative That's Reducing Polar Bear Deaths in the Arctic
February 27th was International Polar Bear Day, and this year polar bears and their fans have cause to celebrate thanks to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and their Polar Bear Patrol.
A Polar Bear Patrol may sound like something from an animated Disney movie (Hup two three four, Keep it up two three four!), but it is actually quite real, and an effective way of protecting people and polar bears.
Climate change has created a disturbance in the arctic hunting ground of the polar bear. As the sea ice thins and retreats, decreasing at an average rate of 13.5 percent per decade, polar bears retreat inland as well. These hungry hunters have been turning to human residences in search of food.
Human and polar bear encounters have led to bear fatalities as people try to protect themselves from bears who have had to find alternative hunting grounds away from the melting ice. On the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, the Defense of Life and Property (DLP) regulations state that "You may kill a bear in defense of your life or property if you did not provoke an attack or cause a problem by negligently leaving human or pet food or garbage in a manner that attracts bears and if you have done everything else you can to protect your life and property." Before 2010, an average of eight polar bears were being killed each year in the Hamlet of Arviat, Nunavut.
However, in 2010 the WWF-Canada introduced the Polar Bear Patrol to Arviat. Supported by WWF funding, hired guards patrol vulnerable communities and scare away encroaching bears. The WWF lists that various polar bear deterrents include daily patrols during the peak season of September to December (armed with cracker shells, rubber bullets, beanbags, flares, and live rounds) to scare away the bears, community hotlines that allow residents to notify patrols when a bear is spotted, and traps baited with seal meat to catch persistent bears who can then be transported away from the communities.
Due to the efforts of the WWF, polar bear deaths as a result of DLP have been reduced to an average of one death per year since the 2010 introduction of the polar bear patrols. In 2015, despite one hundred and ninety encounters with polar bears in the community of Arviat, there were only two DLP kills.
WWF-Canada is expanding the Arviat model to more communities in the Canadian Arctic, hosting an operators' workshop on Hudson Bay in March 2016, and field-testing different management and deterrence techniques featuring waste management and noise-making devices.
Though the polar bears' story may not have the fairy-tale ending of an animated film, the WWF should be commended for their success and effective means of reducing conflict and polar bear fatalities.
You can learn more about WWF-Canada's efforts to protect the polar bears as well as their other projects at their website, http://www.wwf.ca/about_us/.