Photo: Dagmara Wojtanowicz

World Ranger Day Award 2022

By Barbara Nielsen, Senior Director of Communications



29 Jul 2022

World Ranger Day is July 31! Every year on this day, we present our World Ranger Day Award to an individual or team working to help polar bears and people coexist. This year, we are pleased to honor the dedicated men and women of the Watchman Crew in Ny-Alesund, a remote community in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, known for its Arctic research station.

Set at a latitude of 79 degrees north, the settlement has about 40 year-round residents. During the summer fieldwork season, the numbers swell to roughly 150 people as researchers from all over the world travel to the station to take samples and do measurements.

Photo: Joanna Sulich / Polar Bears International

Seven of the eight members of the current King’s Bay Watchman Crew, recipients of this year's World Ranger Day Award. Top row, left to right: Sigmund Lønnve, Espen Blix, Ida Kristoffersen, and Jakob Weiset. Bottom row, left to right: Marine Ilg, Morten Østlund, Erlend Havenstrøm. Not pictured, Tormod Eknes.

“Thanks to the expertise and commitment of the Watchman Crew, both polar bears and people live safely with each other,” said Krista Wright, executive director of Polar Bears International. “Their work is an excellent example of how to coexist with polar bears in a changing Arctic.”

The Watchman Crew is staffed by employees of Norway’s state-owned company, Kings Bay, which operates the community. The team works on rotation 24/7 to help with incidents like fires, power outages, or curious polar bears. The crew currently consists of eight women and men: Erlend Havenstrøm, Espen Blix, Ida Kristoffersen, Jakob Weiset, Marine Ilg, Morten Østlund, Sigmund Lønnve, and Tormod Eknes.

When polar bears come close to the community, crew members do their best to avoid dangerous situations. They use flare guns or shotguns with slugs to scare the bears away without harming them, as well as cars or snowmobiles. In cases where the bears persist, the Governor of Svalbard can help by scaring them off with a helicopter or possibly relocating them.

One of the watchmen looks out at Prins Heinrich, where a bear was eating a freshly hunted harbor seal

Photo: Joanna Sulich / Polar Bears International

One of the watchmen looks out at Prins Heinrich, where a bear was eating a freshly hunted harbor seal.

“Polar bears are only chased away if they enter the settlement or the immediate proximity,” said Lars Ole Saugnes, Kings Bay director. “Polar bears in the field are to be expected in Svalbard, and everyone living and working here respects that people are just visitors in the kingdom of the polar bear.

“We have a very competent crew and there have never been any episodes where people have been injured by polar bears and no bears have been shot in the community since 1998. We have a high awareness of the polar bear danger in Svalbard, regardless of weather, eternal daylight in summer, or the long polar night in winter—and we thoroughly appreciate the award!”

Past recipients of Polar Bears International’s World Ranger Day Award include Vladelin Kavry of Russia’s Umky Patrollers; Churchill, Canada’s Polar Bear Alert Team; Wildlife Officer Erling Madsen of Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland; The North Slope Borough’s Polar Bear Patrols in Alaska; the rangers of Russia’s Wrangel Island Nature Reserve; and Leo Ikakhik and Joe Savikataaq Jr. of Arviat, Nunavut.