Importance of Polar Bear Deterrence

Importance of Polar Bear Deterrence

Sandra Chen (Animal Science)

Shayne Bradford (Urban Forestry)

Sam English (Building and Construction Technology)

NatSci 397A Professional Writing

Professor Evan Ross


            Jakub Moravec was awoken one night while asleep in his tent on a remote arctic island. A polar bear had entered his tent and was clawing at his back to try to drag the man closer to get to his head. The bear was scared away when another camper fired a gun at it to get it off the man. Jakub was then transported to the hospital to receive treatment for the shallow gashes on his back. Jakub was eventually released from the hospital, and the bear had survived the initial gunshot, however authorities later tracked the bear down and put it down. (The Guardian)

Encounters such as Jakub Moravec’s story have become more common in the arctic circle. Interactions between humans and polar bears have Global warming continues to decrease polar bear habitats by melting sea ice. With declining sea ice comes increased polar bear fasting periods, causing them to remain on land for extended periods (Durner et. al., 2009). With the bears in a longer fast, it is causing the bears to decline in health and thus affecting their ability to reproduce, and have healthy cubs. The time polar bears have to find food and mates slowly decline every year as the sea-ice seasons shorten (Molnar et al., 2010, p. 1612). Due to these environmental stresses, polar bear population decline is an increasing problem in the arctic.

The decrease in habitat propel polar bears to stay on land for longer periods of time, and propel them to migrate towards human populated areas. The presence of polar bears on land cause progressively more conflicts with humans. The bears generally do not attack humans for no reason. They do, however wander into human-settled areas due to food attractants. They are generally curious animals that wait until there is little to no activity to investigate new things. When a human and bear do encounter one another, conflicts between the two arise. Polar bears are most often killed prematurely in self-defense by humans as a result of these encounters.

While many people in the world who may never encounter a polar bear either in the wild or captivity, polar bear populations indirectly affect everyone. Polar bears are apex predators and therefore have no natural predators (excluding humans.) In theory, their populations should be unthreatened, but habitat loss and polar bear hunting continue to cause population numbers to decline every year. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, polar bear numbers are estimated to decrease as great as 30% by 2050 (n.d., para. 9). Humans shooting bears in self-defense contribute to this decline. If this population decline continues, there will be a chain of effects for the ecosystem. While indirect, polar bears are related to the seafood industry that humans rely on. (Cenname, para. 5.) Although the concept of the food chain is much more complex, an increase in a predator population such as seals can cause a decrease in fish (like salmon) populations, which was seen near the Bonneville Dam in 2008. (Sheets, 2012.) This is concerning to coastal communities that depend on seafood catches economically. Cenname (para. 7) agrees that the decrease in salmon catches would therefore drive prices up, which directly affects humans.

In order to minimize casualties to both human and polar bear populations, individuals must be protected from one another. This being said, the use of firearms should be highly discouraged, as this could fatally harm both sides. Firearms have lower success rates depending on the individual carrying the gun, and the proximity of the bear to the human. Killing a polar bear is not the answer, especially not when polar bears are considered vulnerable by the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species (Wiig, et. al., 2015.)

An increase in the use and presence of deterrents is highly encouraged in populated areas close to where polar bears roam while onshore. Different types of deterrents can range from bangers to flare guns, but the most effective one for close encounters is bear spray. An increase in the use of deterrents by hikers, campers, researchers, and civilians against polar bears could greatly reduce unnecessary killing.

Government subsidized programs can reduce cost of deterrents. Conservation organizations such as Polar Bear International and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) could also partner with government agencies to subsidize bear sprays, bangers, and electric fencing to promote general public safety and bear conservation. Big conservation organizations such as the two listed can also increase education in northern coastal communities about the effects of killing polar bears, and their importance to the arctic ecosystem. These education proposals can be in the form of classroom programs, billboards, or general warning signs in areas where polar bears have been previously spotted.

Being educated in the different types of deterrents and how to use them is important for public safety. Deterrents can decrease the number of lethal human-bear conflicts that occur every year. The different deterrents range from close counter methods such as bear spray, to more proximal methods such as bangers and electric fences. The purpose of bangers and electric fencing is to prevent bears from going anywhere near human-populated areas, whether that be a campsite or private property. These different deterrents are safe and easy to use for individuals that may encounter wildlife animals such as polar bears. The use of deterrents should always be the first options to prevent harm to either side.

There is a common misconception that polar bears are not easily deterred by anything that human may use. While it is true that once a polar bear spotted a food source like human food waste they are unlikely to give it up, protecting individuals from polar bears is possible. This is especially important and relevant to hikers, tourists, researchers, and individuals that live in the northern regions inhabited by polar bears. Proper hazing of the wild animal should always be done as an initial warning. Hazing guidelines for polar bears have been developed in 2009 by the U.S. Air Force to prevent premature killing of a polar bear. (United States Office of the Federal Register, 2010, pg. 76124.) Hazing is basically using different tools to produce sound, light or motion in order to drive away wild animals from human-populated areas so that they learn not to approach again. This technique is usually done with coyotes and other animals that may wander into people’s backyards. (Project Coyote, n.d.) To prepare for encounters with the bears, the use of bear spray, bangers, and electric fences will deter bears from humans, and therefore save bears from humans.

Bear spray is a type of bear deterrent used as a nonlethal method of preventing a bear attack at close proximity. Bear spray is made of capsaicin, derived from red peppers, at an EPA regulated concentration between 1 and 2% and works by irritating the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs of the bear. For it to work bear spray is sprayed in front of a charging bear and it forms an expanding cloud of aerosolized capsaicin that temporarily swells the membranes of the bears lungs, eyes and throat when it passes through. According to a US Fish and Wildlife report, people who defend themselves with firearms escape injury only 50% of the time, while people who use bear spray escape injury most of the time, and the injuries that do occur are less severe. In a study conducted by Tom Smith, a professor at Brigham Young University, bear spray was effective in 100% of polar bear attacks analyzed.

Bear spray is also used as a deterrent for bear attacks because the can is small, usually around the size of a spray paint can (12 oz.) so it can be easily carried during hikes or camping trips. The small size makes it possible for anyone venturing to a location with the possibility of polar bear attacks to carry a can in order to defend themselves. Bear spray is most useful for people who are on the move and need to pack light, such as hikers and researchers who are away from locations where they could easily find safety such as houses or cars. However, the effectiveness can be affected by different variables including wind or rain, so people should still take caution around areas with bears.

Bear bangers create a loud noise that is unpleasant to bears which causes them to be uneasy and back away, without harming the bear at all if they are used correctly. They are operated by igniting a small explosive charge that causes the loud bang after traveling a distance from the launcher it is shot from. Bear bangers come in multiple styles, from small pen style launchers that are the most common due to their small size and effectiveness, to shells that can be shot from different firearms. Bear bangers can be added to any pack that a hiker is carrying and help prevent people from being attacked by a bear. They are most effective at a distance of 75-90 feet, making them a good first option for preventing an attack and the launcher can be reloaded making them reusable if the first one is ineffective.

Small towns can also encourage its residents to use deterrents like electric fences around homes and areas with food waste. A similar solution has already been enacted in a community in Arviat, Canada where they’ve instituted electric fences around the town’s dump (World Wide Fund for Nature, 2014). Our proposal, however, is more targeted towards houses, open community areas, and camping grounds.

Electric fences are used as a deterrent from all types of predators and are effective against bears of all sizes. They work by connecting the fence wires to a battery, which creates an open circuit that will send an electric shock to anything that contacts it. The electric shock created by these fences is not harmful to the bear but rather an unpleasant sensation that causes the bear to back away from the fence. The shock lasts only as long as the bear contacts the fence so there is no long-term damage caused by the shock as opposed to more lethal deterrents such as guns or traps.

Electric fences can be used as permanent deterrents set up around settlements and other permanent attractants such as landfills, but also can be used as temporary deterrents set up around campsites. These temporary fences are relatively inexpensive and can quickly be set up and taken down by an individual around their campsites as they consist of only four pieces, with the largest being the fence charging battery. Electric fences are a completely non-lethal deterrent that can be used by people camping in areas where a polar bear attack may occur and can be used in order to protect the bear from lethal force and protecting the camper from a potentially lethal attack.

The use of deterrents when dealing with polar bears is crucial in protecting polar bears and humans from one another. While it is unlikely anyone from below the Arctic Circle would encounter a polar bear within their lifetime, the proposed deterrents are important for individuals such as campers, hikers, researchers, or northern residents. The different deterrents we proposed are the safest ways to keep polar bears from frightening humans into using lethal weapons. The use of bear pepper sprays, bangers, and electric fences are all preventative methods to ensure the safety of both sides. Bear pepper spray is an aerosol used to irritate the orifice of the polar bear, and turn their attention away from humans. Bangers use a loud noise to frighten polar bears from coming too close to humans. And lastly, electric fences set up a perimeter around individual human settlements, whether a tent or a cabin, in order to stop polar bears from entering within a certain distance. Our proposal to increase the use of deterrents rather than lethal firearms is due to the fact that polar bear populations are currently vulnerable. Their numbers are declining due to habitat loss and humans killing them prematurely. While humans cannot create sea-ice, increase in deterrent usage can eliminate premature killing of polar bears. Polar bears are apex predators, and are key to maintaining a balance in the arctic ecosystem, therefore we cannot afford to lose them forever.


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