Tag Archives: ANWR

Risk to Alaskan polar bear cubs from oil exploration in coastal Wildlife Refuge is small

A bill recently introduced to US Congress (30 July 2020) is supposedly meant to “safeguard the Beaufort Sea polar bear’s denning habitat”.  However, the bill is named the “Polar Bear Cub Survival Act”, which tells us this is an appeal to emotions rather than a call for rational decision-making. In fact, few Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear cubs are born on land in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the risks to them from oil exploration is not overwhelming.

Amstrup_only solution_with 3 cubs_Oct 8 2014

Despite a modest decline in summer sea ice since 1979, only about half of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear females currently make their dens on the sea ice in late fall. Recent research confirms results from older studies that show denning females in Alaska are highly tolerant of the kind of disturbance associated with oil exploration and few dens are found more than about 1 km from the shore. This emotion-laden bill is not really about protecting polar bears: it’s a political move aimed at preventing oil exploration along the coast of Alaska after previous efforts failed. It comes ahead of an announcement today (18 August 2020) that the White House will begin to auction off leases for oil drilling in the ANWR.

Don’t let the ‘trust my word, I’m an expert’ hyperbolic testimony from activist scientists like Steven Amstrup and others hold sway on this issue – see for example Alaska polar bear den disturbances part of ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ researcher says (biologist Wesley Larson on Alaska Public Radio, 14 July 2020), or activist conservation organizations Polar Bears International and World Wildlife Fund. Have a look at the facts on the matter taken from the published literature, which I summarize below (as many pdfs provided as possible).

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Southern Beaufort polar bear attack far from the Alaskan coast: another winter example

A man from Arctic Village (Alaska), out checking his trap-line, killed a polar bear at his cabin when it came after him: only odd things were it was the first week of January and the cabin was more than 100 miles south of the Beaufort Sea coast.

polar_bear_in fall terry debruyne_usfws nov 10 2010_w label_sm

Winter is hard for polar bears, as I’ve mentioned before: it’s cold, dark, and hard to find seals. Most bears are at their lightest weight at the end of winter (March). Looking for food in the dead of winter, the bears can be very destructive as well as dangerous. See previous posts here, here, here, and here.

The map below shows how far south Arctic Village is from the Beaufort coast. This hunter is lucky he had his wits about him and his gun handy, because he came awfully close to being a polar bear’s dinner.

arctic village ak map google

Here’s an excerpt of the story (my bold): “Polar bear encounter reported in Arctic Village, many miles south of normal range” (KTOO, Ravenna Koenig, 15 January 2019):

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