A polar bear cub peers over her mom.

The denning season is the most sensitive period in the polar bear's life cycle. Proposed seismic testing, road building, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pose significant on-the-ground threats to denning mother bears and their cubs.

© Dr. Steven C. Amstrup/Polar Bears International

4/10/2019 6:29:41 PM

Threats to Polar Bear Denning Area

By Barbara Nielsen

“Polar bears everywhere face dire threats, but the polar bears of the southern Beaufort Sea in Alaska are the most threatened of all.”  

At a recent hearing in the U.S. Congress concerning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, our chief scientist, Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, shared the risks posed to denning polar bear families from proposed oil and gas activity in the wilderness area. Amstrup based his testimony on his decades of studying polar bears, including 30 years as Polar Bear Project leader for the U.S. Geological Survey.

This moving video of Amstrup’s testimony highlights the importance of the refuge to polar bear moms and cubs in the Southern Beaufort Sea population—a population that has already dropped by 40 percent.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a pristine wilderness area in northern Alaska. Sometimes called America’s Serengeti, the refuge is home to caribou, muskoxen, migratory birds, and denning polar bear moms and cubs. The region has long been set aside as a wilderness area but has now come under threat from proposed oil and gas exploration and development.

As part of a joint effort with the Sierra Club, Amstrup recently submitted a 47-page assessment of the Bureau of Land Management's Draft Environmental Impact Statement related to proposed oil and gas activity on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His analysis details the risks and potential impacts, based on decades of research, to denning polar bear families.

“Seismic testing, road building, and drilling pose significant on-the-ground threats to denning mother bears and their cubs,” Amstrup says. “Given that reproductive success in the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population is already severely compromised, additional impairment of denning success—from oil exploration and development—is sure to exacerbate the ongoing decline of this imperiled population.” 

We will continue to keep you apprised of developments related to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the polar bears there.

Special thanks to the Alaska Wilderness League for creating this video and sharing it with us.

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