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article imageSmall town on Russian Arctic island attracts over 50 polar bears

By Ken Hanly     Feb 12, 2019 in Environment
Dwindling sea ice and a garbage dump buffet are probably two causes of a huge influx of polar bears to towns in the Russian arctic. The situation is risky for both polar bears and humans as their proximity increases the potential for conflict.
Over fifty bears enter small town
The Washington Post reports:
Fences have risen around kindergartens. Special vehicles transport military personnel to their work sites. Residents of the island settlement are afraid to leave their homes. Novaya Zemlya is a Russian archipelago stretching into the Arctic Ocean..Officials in the Arkhangelsk region, where the archipelago lies, declared a state of emergency Saturday because of the marauding mammals. Polar bears are typically born on land but live mostly on sea ice, where they hunt and feed on seals. But as Arctic ice thins, an occurrence linked to the acceleration of climate change, the animals move ashore, ravenous. They scavenge, sometimes coming into contact with human populations.
The town of Belushya Guba on Novaya Zemlya islands in the Russian Arctic has seen an invasion of at least 52 polar bears during the last few months. The town of about two thousand is the main settlement on the islands. The bears are not only at the dump but come into town invading homes and office buildings. The appended video shows the bears at the dump and in town. The invasion is a prelude of things to come as the sea ice melts driving polar bears into settlements with their garbage dumps.
Geoff York, senior director of the non-profit Polar Bears International said that polar bear attics are relatively rare but he notes that when polar bears and humans exist close together the risk of conflict will increase. Human food is a major attraction to bears of all kinds At many campgrounds trash is thrown into bear proof containers. However, in the arctic towns open dump, the bears have an outdoor buffet.
Anatoly Kochnev, a senior scientist at the Russian Academy of Science noted that its hard work for a polar bear to catch a seal but the dump is like a free luxurious restaurant. They will no doubt stay in town until they have eaten everything they can. Bears tend to return to wherever they have found food before, so they are likely to return again to the dump. Kochnev says that getting rids of trash in the settlements on Novaya Zemlya will be key. He said everything needs to be destroyed that attracts polar bears.
The Churchill Manitoba solution
The northern Manitoba community of Churchill on Hudson's Bay was also concerned about polar bears at the town dump some of whom would occasionally wander into town. In 2006 they decided to close down the dump and bury the garbage. The garbage will be stored in an old shipping and receiving hub left at a former military base. Shawn Bobier, district supervisor with the provincial Conservation Department said: "It's a big building with a concrete floor. All the windows and doors have been covered up with metal bars to keep all the animals out." Tourism officials hope the dump closure will help the image of the town as tourists will no longer see bears at the dump surrounded by burning trash.
The Siberia town may not have such an old building available although it is possible. Meanwhile even an electric fence could help and burning or burying trash when possible. As it is now everything is out in plain view and accessible.
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