Polar Bears International (PBI) announced today that the Polar Bear Patrol Program of Alaska’s North Slope Borough has been honored with its annual World Ranger Day Award. PBI presents the award each year on World Ranger Day, July 31st, to recognize the courage and commitment of front-line heroes working to keep people and polar bears safe across the Arctic.
“Members of the North Slope Borough’s Polar Bear Patrols do an amazing job under challenging conditions,” said Geoff York, PBI’s senior director of conservation. “Thanks in no small part to their efforts, there hasn’t been a polar bear attack in Alaska since 1993.”
The patrols are active in six coastal communities in northern Alaska: Kaktovik, Nuiqsut (Cross Island), Point Hope, Point Lay, Utqiagvik, and Wainwright. All occur in polar bear habitat and all have experienced problems with polar bears, said biologist Susi Miller of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which collaborates on the program. These range from polar bears strolling down streets in town to bears raiding food caches.
As the sea ice has retreated from Alaska’s northern shore, communities and industry have experienced an uptick in the number of polar bears onshore, data shows. These include bears feeding on the whale-bone piles in Kaktovik, a town that attracts the highest density of polar bears of anywhere in Alaska—along with tourists who arrive to watch and photograph the bears.
PBI presents the award each year on World Ranger Day, a day to honor those on the front lines working to protect natural treasures. Traditionally, the day focused on the efforts of wildlife rangers in Africa and Asia working to protect species like rhinos, elephants, tigers, and lions. In 2016, PBI expanded the idea to the Arctic, creating the World Ranger Day Award to honor front-line staff working to reduce conflict between polar bears and people.
“Our goal is to draw attention to the important work of these committed people, whether they’re called rangers, patrollers, or wildlife conservation officers,” York said.
PBI rotates the award among the five polar bear nations (Canada, Greenland, Russia, Norway, and the U.S.) every year, working with government partners to identify individuals or teams that deserve recognition. Past recipients include the late Vladelin Kavry of Russia’s Umky Patrollers; Churchill, Canada’s Polar Bear Alert team; and Wildlife Officer Erling Madsen of Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland.
When given to an individual, the award comes with a new Canada Goose Arctic Parka and a cash award with a total value of $2000 USD. When a team is chosen, PBI works with the respective managers and government to decide on a path for recognition, which could include direct support to the program, donation to a regional cause, or simple equipment needs.