Reducing polar bear human conflict: a demonstration project for East Greenland communities

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > Northern Europe > Denmark > Greenland (DK)

Polar bear (ursus maritimus)
© David Jenkins / WWF-Canada

Summary

Conflict between humans and polar bears is a major problem which impacts negatively on efforts to protect this flagship species.

This project is undertaken in cooperation with the Association of Fishermen and Hunters in Greenland - Kalaallit Nunaanni Aalisartut Piniartullu Kattuffiat (KNAPK). It will accelerate the use of creative new measures to reduce and eventually eliminate conflicts between polar bears and humans in key eastern communities.

Background

Driven primarily by accelerating climate change and retreat of annual sea-ice in many regions of the Arctic, bears are spending increasing portions of the year ashore, and more often approaching humans and associated sources of food. Increased interaction between polar bears and people is challenging the views and acceptance of Northern communities for the species and contributing to the threats facing this already stressed population.

As a default reaction, polar bears are often killed when they get too close to camps or populated areas, especially when they occur as rare or unusual sightings (such as in Iceland or outside their normal southern range).

There are, however, non-lethal options for managing these situations including deterrence, education, and more effective management of possible attractants.

A significant attractant in Arctic communities results from traditional methods of drying, aging, and storing of foods outdoors. In addition, household and community waste is often available to bears due to insecure storage practices. As bears become more common on shore, communities may have to consider new solutions for preserving and storing foods for the long winter months that protect the valuable food.

WWF will build on the positive experiences learned from its work with communities in Alaska and Canada and look to success stories in other regions, such as Greenland, to support cooperation among indigenous groups, northern communities, and industry around the Arctic. We will endeavour to adapt management concepts that respect different locations and cultures.

With the shrinking of their sea ice habitat and increased human activity in the Arctic, encounters between polar bears and people will become much more frequent. Within this issue, there is a significant opportunity for WWF to revitalize discussions and efforts on reducing human wildlife conflict across the Arctic and around the world as we tackle adaptation strategies in the face of climate change, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation globally. We clearly have a window in respect to bear human conflict management worldwide and across bear species.

WWF will also plan to work on the ground and roll it up to policy level discussions regarding polar bear management in the Arctic. Canada will be hosting both the Polar Bear Range States Meeting and the International Bear Association (IBA) Meeting in 2011. Reduction of bear/human conflict is an issue WWF plans to showcase for these meetings, both by demonstration of actual progress with communities and by including significant bear human conflict management in the proposed polar bear management plans discussed at these key meetings.

Reduction of unnecessary bear human conflict is one area where NGOs, indigenous people, industry, and governments can all work together. As such, this is an opportunity to build relationships and trust so we can frankly discuss more challenging issues in a respectful and productive fashion - even when there are disagreements.

Objectives

1. Manage attractants for polar bears such as community waste, foods and dog-teams in and near targeted communities and hunting camps, through the use of bear-resistant containers for stored meat, electric fence installations, and new plans for waste management so that bears are not drawn into close contact with humans and/or valuable property/resources.

2. Convene a workshop on polar bear – human conflicts in Nuuk, including sharing of techniques used in progressive communities in Chukotka, Canada, and Alaska via a visiting speaker in 2011/12.

3. Facilitate the training and creation of a new ranger/polar bear patrol programme in this region as a demonstration project that could be rolled out to other interested communities.

Solution

1. Communications and public awareness
WWF will provide project updates as well as information, film and/or photo as available.

2. Knowledge sharing:
Creation of a pan-Arctic network for communities and professionals involved in bear/human conflict reduction, including:
- Coordination of information exchanges between polar bear patrol projects in Greenland, Alaska, Canada, and the Russian Arctic.
- Creating opportunities for sharing best practices in the management of bear-human conflicts.

3. Recommendations for affordable and practical food/waste storage and management
WWF will prepare a report on project implementation, drawing upon the successes and lessons learned in this test project to finalize a series of design recommendations for affordable and practical food/waste storage containers and distribute this information to interested parties.

4. Facilitation of project expansion
WWF will seek additional partner communities and funding to further deploy such containers and develop other novel solutions to reduce attractants across the Arctic. WWF will seek feedback and identify partnership areas for additional bear/human conflict management with interested communities.

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