Safer communities, safer bears – workshop on reducing conflict between polar bears and humans

Posted on 12 February 2013    
Sign warning of polar bear presence on Svalbard, Norway.
© WWF / Spitsbergen Travel
Leading polar bear experts from throughout the Arctic will convene at a WWF-organized workshop in Tromsø to exchange knowledge and experiences in order to reduce the level of conflict between bears and humans. The three-day workshop will take place on 26th-28th February in the High North Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research.

Many remember the tragedy in 2011 when a 17-year-old British boy was killed and four others were seriously injured when a bear attacked a group on Svalbard. The bear also died as a result of th4e encounter. Unfortunately, conditions are increasingly facilitating the risk of such events, says WWF Norway’s advisor for Arctic and northern regions, Nils Harley Boisen.

As a result of continuing loss of their preferred sea-ice habitat, it is expected that polar bears will spend more time on land. Here they are exposed to both nutritional stress and increasing human activity in the Arctic coastal areas. More people and more polar bears will likely be using the same coastal areas resulting in greater interaction between bears and humans.

To date, polar bear attacks occur rarely, but figures show a general trend toward more polar bear deaths due to people using guns to defend themselves from perceived threats.

But there are some bright spots – in the past year, a project in the Canadian community of Arviat helped bring defensive kills of polar bears from several each year to none. Similar projects in the Russian far northeast have also helped reduce conflict deaths and damages.

Workshop participants are coming from a variety of backgrounds: polar bear management, research, polar tourism, and representatives of local populations. The main findings of the workshop will be presented in a report, which will include specific recommendations for best management of polar bears in connection with minimization of conflict level, with special relevance for Svalbard, Norway.

We encourage anyone with experience in polar bear conflict issues to attend as an observer. Registration as an observer to the workshop is open until February 21st. Inquiries and questions should be addressed to

Nils Harley Boisen
WWF-Norway advisor for Arctic and northern regions
Telephone: + 47 980 82 101 (Oslo Time zone GMT+1)
Sign warning of polar bear presence on Svalbard, Norway.
© WWF / Spitsbergen Travel Enlarge

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