In the Arctic, wildlife is being forced to adapt to an environment warming twice as fast as any other region on the planet. That constantly changing climate impacts the way sea ice grows and melts, which is bad news for the wildlife dependent on sea ice and people whose survival is inextricably linked to the ice.
In some areas of the Arctic, female polar bears are more frequently choosing to build their maternity dens on land rather than sea ice. The land provides the stability and security that sea ice no longer can—at least until human activity comes into the picture.
In the US, polar bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear subpopulation is one of the most imperiled in the world. Its size is almost half of what the subpopulation was in the mid-1980s with only around 900 bears estimated to be remaining today.
The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has become a nursery ground for these polar bears, with one of the highest densities of suitable denning habitat in northern Alaska. About one-third of all breeding females in the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation give birth and raise newborn cubs under the protection provided by the coastal plain.
But much like the sea ice that’s disappearing from our warming planet, the protection provided by Arctic refuge could vanish, too.