Polar bear cub on the sea ice in the Southern Beaufort Sea

Seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could disturb up to 96 percent of undetected denning polar bear families, the IUCN warns in a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

© Dr. Steven Amstrup/Polar Bears International

12/11/2018 9:22:41 PM

Arctic Refuge Dens at Risk

A Trump administration proposal to conduct seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a vital denning area for polar bears, has drawn the attention of the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a science-based network of more than 8,000 volunteer experts from almost every country in the world.

In a letter sent to Secretary Ryan Zinke of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the IUCN’s director general, Inger Andersen, and chair, Jon Paul Rodriquez, advised against the proposal, stating that such activity will compromise the already threatened population of polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea.

“Because maternal denning on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain is so important to the maintenance of the Southern Beaufort Sea population, we are deeply concerned that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management appears ready to approve high intensity seismic surveys there,” the authors wrote. “Based on previous observations of polar bear response to such activities, the proposed seismic testing could disturb over 96 percent of undetected denning bears on the Coastal Plain. In addition, there is a 23 percent probability that heavy vehicles could drive right over one or more dens with fatal consequences for polar bear mothers and cubs.”

The letter notes that the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population has declined by an estimated 40 percent in recent years and that going forward with the testing would be inconsistent with the polar bear’s threatened status.

Read the full letter here. Also read a full analysis of the risks to denning polar bear families by Dr. Steven Amstrup, our chief scientist.

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