Polar Bear Patrol Program

North Slope Borough Contact: Mike Pederson and Billy Adams
Funding: NSB
Summary: This program, administered by Subsistence Research Coordinators Mike Pederson and Billy Adams, provides the villages with tools for managing polar bears and brown bears on the North Slope. Local residents are hired to monitor the village for bears and to provide non-lethal means for diverting bears away from the village. As more polar bears have been using the onshore areas in recent years, this has become an important method for reducing human-bear interactions. The recent increases in brown bear activity near camps, cabins and villages have also warranted Brown Bear Patrols.

North Slope Borough - Recovery Champion Region 7 NSB was recognized as a 2011 Recovery Champion by USFWS for our conservation efforts with polar bears

"The North Slope Borough is a leader in conserving the polar bear and the Steller’s eider and spectacled eider through management and outreach. Through non-lethal hazing techniques, the Borough has reduced the number of polar bears entering coastal villages and thereby reduced the number of the animals killed in the interest of public safety. The community-based project promotes support for polar bear conservation and also protects area residents."

For assistance with Polar Bears coming into the village,
contact your local PSO.
The officer will contact the Polar Bear Patrol personnel.

Polar Bear Outreach

North Slope Borough Contact: Mike Pederson
Collaborators: WWF
Funding: USFWS, WWF
Summary: This grant provides funds for outreach to communities on polar bear biology and polar bear safety (including the Polar Bear Art contest and more) and assistance with polar bear deterrence programs (on the North Slope and in Chukotka, Russia).

Polar Bear Safety Poster and Brochure

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You are in Polar Bear Country This brochure is handed out to residents and visitors in Kaktovik to provide outreach on polar bear safety.

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A Framework for Bear Safety Messages in Alaska - Revised in 2017 by the Alaska Interagency Bear Safety Education Working Group   This document does not address polar bears, but does discuss safety with brown and black bears.

Polar Bear Patrol in Chukotka (UMKY)

 Hunters from Chukotka traveled to Alaska to talk to other subsistence hunters about walrus and polar bear conservation issues. They gave community presentations on traditional knowledge and their polar bear patrol in Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright and Barrow in February 2010.  The following narrative and pictures were provided by the Chukotkan hunters. Their trip was sponsored by WWF.  

     

Chukotkan Polar Bear Patrol Program (UMKY Patrol)
(Translated by Cheryl Hojnowski from story written by Polar Bear patrollers Vladilen Kavry, Sergey Kavry and Fyodor Tymnityagin. Photos provided by Kavry)

It all began in 1996 at Cape Vankarem, on the Arctic shores of Chukotka, Russia.  It was a period of economic crisis in Chukotka and throughout Russia, and native people in the small village of Vankarem were just trying to survive.  There were no bullets and no motors. Hunters sat on the coast and watched the walruses and whales swimming by.  And the hunters reminisced: “At one time walruses came ashore at Cape Vankarem, and our ancestors hunted them with spears.”

The economic crisis forced native people to think hard about how to return the walruses to Cape Vankarem. That year they decided to protect the cape.  The hunters forbid local people to visit the cape during the walruses’ fall migration. They shot stray dogs in the area.  And the protection worked – at the end of September 1996, the first walruses came to Cape Vankarem to rest.  In October there were about 5000 walruses.

Use of firearms was banned at the walrus haul-out.  Each hunter prepared a new spear, or found an old spear handed down from his father or grandfather.  Everyone waited for the start of the spear hunt.  And the hunt took place.  Unlike firearms, spears allow people to hunt walrus without causing panic in the haul-out.  The other walruses always stay on the cape.

The people of Vankarem consider 1996 the rebirth of the traditional walrus spear hunt.  Since this time, every year the walrus come to Cape Vankarem, less than one kilometer from the village of Vankarem.  The resting walruses stretch along about one kilometer of the beach.  Today their numbers reach up to 40,000.

Vladilen Kavry protecting the walrus haul-out near Vankarem.

Vladilen Kavry protecting the walrus haul-out near Vankarem.

But after a few years, the pride of Vankarem – the walrus haul-out – began to worry some local people.  Each fall, a huge number of walruses congregated at the haul-out, and they were coming closer and closer to the village.  The walruses arriving at the cape were very tired, and their skin had a white color.  This told the people that the walruses were having a difficult time making it through the stormy East Siberian and Chukchi Seas.  And this is related to climate change and the melting of the ice in the Arctic. In the past, the ice never withdrew from the Arctic coast of Chukotka.  In the past, the walruses could rest on the ice at any time during their migration to the Bering Strait.

When the haul-out was at its fullest, dozens of walruses were trampled.  Mostly they were young animals. When the sea began to freeze in November and December, polar bears came to Cape Vankarem in search of food.  Large groups of polar bears arrived, creating conflict situations with people.  So after the walruses left the cape in the fall, hunters began to clear away dozens of walrus carcasses.

At the initiative of the people of Vankarem, in 2006 the World Wildlife Fund developed the Polar Bear Patrol project.  The Polar Bear Patrol works to ensure the safety of people living near polar bears, to preserve walrus haul-outs and other unique places, and to help local people participate in scientific projects on polar bears and other animals.  In order to keep local people safe, Polar Bear Patrol members escort children to school and to daycare, patrol the village for bears, and keep people informed about the current situation.

Today additional Polar Bear Patrols have been created in other villages.  Moreover, in 2006 the people of Vankarem voted to make the walrus haul-out at Cape Vankarem a natural monument, a decision which was approved by the government of Chukotka in August, 2007.

Polar bear patrollers protecting the haul-out and the village from polar bears.

Polar bear patrollers protecting the haul-out and the village from polar bears.

Polar bear patrollers using traditional spears to keep polar bears away.

Polar bear patrollers monitoring bears.

Polar bear patrollers monitoring bears.

Collecting information on polar bear and walrus activity at the haul-out.

Collecting information on polar bear and walrus activity at the haul-out.

Monitoring denning activity of polar bears.

Monitoring denning activity of polar bears.

Video of Polar Bear Patrol (UMKY) in Chukotka and in Alaska This video discusses the polar bear and walrus conservation in Chukotka and includes part of the group's visit to Barrow in early February 2010.

Coastal Protected Area established in Chukotka for Polar Bear and Walrus on December 13th, 2010

Banner photo credit: Sonia Grove