#MapMonday: Polar Bears

Lindsay and Jen, our Alaska Outreach Coordinator, chat about the super cool bear from America’s Arctic, the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear.

Adopt a polar bear: dfnd.us/adoptapolarbear

Check out the Coexisting with Polar Bears story map: dfnd.us/polarbearstorymap

Explore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge story map: dfnd.us/arcticstorymap

Click to view video transcript

Hi everyone and welcome to Map Monday.

I hope you have all done something fun to celebrate the return of summer. There’s nothing better after a hot day and messy barbecue than a nice cool bath. Do you know who else likes to take cool baths? Polar bears. They stay clean by rolling across the snow to rub the dirt off their fur. And because they can weigh as much as 10 men it would probably be hard to find the right sized bathtub. It’s important that polar bears be clean and dry because matted, dirty, and wet fur also traps in the cold. And in Arctic extremes, you don’t want to be cold. However, being cold and dirty may not be the biggest concern for Alaska polar bear populations.

Between climate change, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and increased conflicts with people, polar bears need our help.

Defenders is fighting for polar bears by advocating for protection of vital habitat and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. There are 19 polar bear populations throughout the Arctic two of which include the United States and part of their range - the Chukchi and Southern Beaufort Sea Populations.

The Southern Beaufort Sea population is considered the most endangered on the planet. Their range spans part of Canada and Alaska, and their numbers have declined from approximately 1,800 bears in the late 1980s, to only 900 at the last census in 2015. That means we’ve lost half of this population in just three decades.

Polar bears in Alaska continue to face many threats to their survival. For one, melting sea-ice resulting from climate change means less area for them to hunt and roam. Additionally, sea ice has been important in providing denning habitat for mother bears looking to birth and protect their cubs. Many animals can adapt or migrate to more habitable climates, but that is not the case for polar bears; as their habitat melts away, it disappears entirely. As the ice recedes and becomes increasingly thin, polar bears are forced onto land.

Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears are increasingly denning on shore from 34% in the 1980s to nearly 55% today; 34% of these are denning in the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain. These powerful bears also spend more of their time looking for food on land rather than on the ice - a search that is increasingly bringing them into contact and conflict with people.

Addressing conflicts between people and polar bears in Alaska’s Arctic is an essential part of increasing the Southern Beaufort Sea population’s odds for survival. This is why Defenders works to protect its critical habitat on ice and land, minimize climate effects, and reduce human-polar bear conflicts. Here is Jen Christopherson, our Alaska outreach coordinator with more…

Thanks Lindsay! Hi everyone! I’m up here in Alaska and it’s the best time of year- summertime!

We have 19 hours of daylight and everything is a luscious green. As the outreach coordinator for Alaska, I get to spend a lot of time talking and working on polar bears. We have a lot of work to do. These bears are incredible animals and we can’t afford to lose them.

As a member of the Polar Bear Recovery Task Force we work with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies, NGOs in the North Slope Borough and other Native partners, to assess and prioritize the great needs for polar bear conservation in America’s Arctic. As part of our work to reduce human-polar bear conflict we support the design, construction, and delivery of polar bear proof food storage lockers to Kaktovik.

So far 14 of which have been sent up adjacent to homes in the community. We also support community polar bear patrols that use non-lethal deterrence methods as a first line of defense. Finally we have worked with Alaska Native youth to develop video and educational materials about polar bears, hosted workshops relevant to polar bear coexistence efforts, and developed information, tools and supplies to better respond to to oiled polar bears in the event of an oil spill.

We plan to expand our support for polar bear community patrols, a program of the North Slope Borough and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been collaborating with the North Slope Borough on the polar bear patrol program since 2010.

Which involves the communities of Kaktovik, Utquiagvik (formerly Barrow), Nuiqsut, Wainwright, Point Lay and Point Hope - all found within the polar bear’s range…

In 2019 due to the prolonged presence of polar bears on land near Kaktovik their patrol program had to expand. As Kaktovik and potentially other communities expand their patrol programs there are significant funding needs for supplies and salaries. The patrol programs provide community alert systems, and deterrence measures including hazing and other non-lethal techniques as a first line of defense when polar bears enter a community.

The program has been very successful as it has kept community members safe and reduced the use of lethal measures as the primary line of defense.

Despite Defenders and our partner successes in promoting polar bear coexistence much work still remains to be done.

Please join us in our efforts to protect and recover this incredible species.

Now back to you Lindsay.

Thank you Jen.

Polar bears are pretty COOOOOL creatures aren’t they? To support Jen and other Defenders working in America’s Arctic you can adopt a polar bear.

You can also check out more neat facts about polar bears in our polar bear coexistence and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge story maps.

And remember - it is important to act now because even just the thought of an Alaska without polar bears is well, unBEARable.

Don’t forget to join us next time for Map Monday.

Lindsay Rosa
Senior Conservation Scientist

As a Conservaion GIS Scientist with the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Lindsay leads geospatial analysis projects to improve conservation policies and practices.