Ice melt forces polar bears into paths of Alaska schoolchildren

 

Trevor Hughes5 hrs ago
 
File - In this Feb. 15, 2016 file photo, snow-covered mountains are seen behind the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. The massive Alaska ice field that feeds Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier, a tourist attraction viewed by hundreds of thousands each year, could be gone by 2200 if climate warming trends continue, according to a new University of Alaska Fairbanks study.© (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) File – In this Feb. 15, 2016 file photo, snow-covered mountains are seen behind the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. The massive Alaska ice field that feeds Juneau’s…WALES, Alaska — Melting ice off the coast of far-west Alaska is forcing polar bears onto the land, dangerously close to villages where children often walk unaccompanied across the snow-swept tundra.In these isolated communities, fears of a fatal encounter between stressed predators and the towns’ most vulnerable members have forced residents into action: they now train for polar-bear patrols.”Our main concern is the kids,” says Clyde Oxereok, 57, who leads the patrol in Wales, the most western town in the mainland U.S.

The problem is a lack of ice. Each winter, the narrow strait between Russia and the United States melts faster.The ice that does form seems weaker, more susceptible to breaking up. While that’s opened up new areas for oil exploration and opportunities for shipping through the Northwest Passage, it’s also destroying the habitat of the polar bears who hunt seal from that ice.

 

“The weather has changed a lot, and it has made the animals change their behavior,” said Oxereok, a ninth-generation resident of Wales.

Bears on land are easily distracted by towns — and the easy food.

“When you’re out on the ice, everything is white, so anything that’s not, you’re going to check out,” says Elisabeth Kruger, Arctic program manager for the World Wildlife Fund.  “And anything that could be food, you’ll try it,” she says.

Walking back to the snowmobile that carried her out to the frozen edge of the Bering Strait, Kruger stops to point out fresh polar bear tracks. Sometime in the past few days, a large bear walked down the ice in a path that paralleled both the ice’s edge and the front of the town a mile away.

Village elders say while there are fewer polar bears living in the area, they’re near town more often.

That’s a terrifying thought. Polar bears can be 10-foot-tall, weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds and willing to tangle with whales and walruses.

Now, with Kruger’s help, residents in Wales have created the Kingikmiut Nanuuq Patrol to monitor polar bears near their homes. They’ve learned how to “haze” the bears away from town with shotgun-fired noisemakers and pepper spray.

There’s pretty much no one else to call on in Wales. The town lacks any routine law enforcement presence. An Alaska State Trooper flies in for a few hours every so often to check up on the residents.

Other tribal communities might simply kill and eat any polar bears that come into their village. Polar bears are protected by federal law, but Inupiat hunters like those in Wales are allowed to kill some polar bears to maintain their traditional

WALES, Alaska — Melting ice off the coast of far-west Alaska is forcing polar bears onto the land, dangerously close to villages where children often walk unaccompanied across the snow-swept tundra.
In these isolated communities, fears of a fatal encounter between stressed predators and the towns’ most vulnerable members have forced residents into action: they now train for polar-bear patrols.

“Our main concern is the kids,” says Clyde Oxereok, 57, who leads the patrol in Wales, the most western town in the mainland U.S.

The problem is a lack of ice. Each winter, the narrow strait between Russia and the United States melts faster.The ice that does form seems weaker, more susceptible to breaking up. While that’s opened up new areas for oil exploration and opportunities for shipping through the Northwest Passage, it’s also destroying the habitat of the polar bears who hunt seal from that ice.    
   

“The weather has changed a lot, and it has made the animals change their behavior,” said Oxereok, a ninth-generation resident of Wales.

Bears on land are easily distracted by towns — and the easy food.

“When you’re out on the ice, everything is white, so anything that’s not, you’re going to check out,” says Elisabeth Kruger, Arctic program manager for the World Wildlife Fund. “And anything that could be food, you’ll try it,” she says.

Walking back to the snowmobile that carried her out to the frozen edge of the Bering Strait, Kruger stops to point out fresh polar bear tracks. Sometime in the past few days, a large bear walked down the ice in a path that paralleled both the ice’s edge and the front of the town a mile away.

Village elders say while there are fewer polar bears living in the area, they’re near town more often.

That’s a terrifying thought. Polar bears can be 10-foot-tall, weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds and willing to tangle with whales and walruses.

Now, with Kruger’s help, residents in Wales have created the Kingikmiut Nanuuq Patrol to monitor polar bears near their homes. They’ve learned how to “haze” the bears away from town with shotgun-fired noisemakers and pepper spray.

There’s pretty much no one else to call on in Wales. The town lacks any routine law enforcement presence. An Alaska State Trooper flies in for a few hours every so often to check up on the residents.

Other tribal communities might simply kill and eat any polar bears that come into their village. Polar bears are protected by federal law, but Inupiat hunters like those in Wales are allowed to kill some polar bears to maintain their traditional way of life.

3 thoughts on “Ice melt forces polar bears into paths of Alaska schoolchildren

  1. Pingback: Dutch government restricts trophy hunting | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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