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article imagePolar bear patrols reduce bear deaths in Canada, WWF says

By Megan Hamilton     Feb 25, 2016 in Environment
As sea ice in the Arctic continues to thin and decrease, polar bears are spending longer periods prowling coastlines. Separated from seals, their primary source of food, the bears scavenge for meals and are attracted by cooking odors and human waste.
This means there are more encounters between bears and people, HuffPost reports. In the community of Arviat, Nunavut, bears and people crossed paths about 190 times, either in the hamlet or just outside. This is risky for communities and polar bears, and it's led to more and more bears being killed according to regulations that allow this in defense of human life and property.
Nunavut s Arviat region.
Nunavut's Arviat region.
Google Maps
Fortunately a program established in 2010 between the community and the World Wildlife Fund-Canada has successfully reduced the number of bears killed each year from eight to one, CBC News North reports.
Every year since then, during the peak season from September to December, patrol teams monitor the perimeter of the community and drive the bears away.
"Before we joined up with the hamlet, there was on average about eight bears that had to be dispatched every year," said Paul Crowley, director of WWF-Canada's Arctic Program. "Since then it's been down to about one bear per year. Some years none and other years there's been a couple."
This season the number was up slightly, with three bears being killed. Two were killed by the patrol, while one was killed by a local hunter when he encountered the bear outside his hunting cabin.
Locals from the community of 2,300 are deputized to patrol on ATVs, National Post reports. Approaching bears are warded off with flares, cracker shells, rubber bullets, and occasionally, a live round fired into the air.
Also established: A bear hotline where locals can phone in sightings, and bear patrollers are sometimes dispatched to set live traps in order to catch bears who are very persistent.
Arviat is smack in the middle of the polar bears' migration route along the northern coastline of Hudson Bay. As a result, its streets are traversed by bears looking for an easy meal by raiding nearby meat caches.
With the rapid retreat of sea ice during the last few years, the situation has worsened as bears are forced inland. When bear migration peaks in November, the community may see as many as seven bear alerts per day.
And last October, the high number of polar bears forced Arviat residents to spend Halloween inside for the second year in a row.
WWF has also initiated bear patrols in Greenland and Russia, and the organization hopes to "share these success with other northern communities to expand the program," according to a statement released by WWF-Canada president and former Toronto mayor David Miller.
But that's not all local residents in Arviat are doing to discourage the bears from coming into town. Wildlife officials have also placed barrels of seal meat that are left out on the tundra, in the hopes that when the bears are done feeding, they will move along.
Even with this success, however, with increasing bear-human tensions in Nunavut, residents have called for raising the yearly hunting quota on the huge bears.
Last year, Nunavut's Wildlife Management Board recommended raising the regional hunting quota from 24 to 38 bears, but fortunately, the Nunavut government only raised the quota by four bears.
In recent years, the government has also hired additional relief workers to take the midnight patrol shift, Nunatsiaq Online reports.
All across the circumpolar world, bear-human incidents are on the rise, and there has been an increase in attacks on humans, the WWF said.
This is why WWF supports polar bear patrols in Greenland and in Russia's Yamal and Chukotka regions. The organization is hosting polar bear deterrence workshops for wildlife officials and those working the front-line in the Kivalliq region in March.
Estimates show that there are about 20- 25,000 polar bears worldwide, the WWF reports. There are currently 19 sub-populations of the big bears, and about 60 to 80 percent of the bears make their homes in Canada.
The status of the world s polar bear populations  according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The status of the world's polar bear populations, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
World Wildlife Fund
Scientists say that by 2040, only a fringe of ice will remain in Northeast Canada and Northern Greenland; all other large areas of summer ice will be gone. Known as the "Last Ice Area," this place will certainly become crucial for the bears and other animals that depend on the ice.
A 2015 study reports that polar bears are already making their way towards this ice as a response to decreased ice in the southern part of Canada's Arctic archipelago.
The WWF supported a projection of sea ice in the archipelago, and it showed that much of the region faces significant ice loss in the coming decades and this may severely affect polar bears.
It seems as though these magnificent bears may truly be walking on thin ice. Hopefully, in the face of such dire predictions, they will still walk among us for generations to come.
More about Polar bears, polar bear patrols, bear deaths, Canada, Wwf
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