Hope for the future of Arctic Bears
As a young boy, my family would travel from my home tucked in the subdivisions of Southern California to the vastness of my grandfather’s farm in rural Pennsylvania. It was there that I saw my first wild bears. We would sit on the porch to watch the black bears amble across the hay fields and drink at the stream. Those early sightings were the first of many encounters. I’ve been lucky enough to experience all of America’s bears: black, grizzly, and polar bears.
The most memorable of these experiences came shortly after I had moved to Alaska’s wilderness to work for the Bureau of Land Management as a river ranger on a 40 mile wild and scenic river. On my very first trip I paddled a solo canoe only to look up to see a bear on the bank just 100 feet ahead. This was the largest bear I had ever seen, a grizzly. In that split second I realized two things: I didn’t have time to pull over, and the river was only 30 feet wide and not very deep. I held my breath and floated on by. The bear gave me a tough look and a loud grunt but never moved. Traveling that close to such a wild animal changed my life. Over the next two decades I have been able to share my love and appreciation of Alaska’s wild bears as a wilderness guide on trips in the Brooks Range and Alaska’s Arctic slope. I have worked alongside many wonderful people to protect the lands that these animals need to survive into the future.
The root of the word Arctic is the Greek word arktos, which means “bear.” There is no other animal more emblematic to this spectacular part of the world than the mighty polar bear. Bears are an icon of the wild. Three of the eight bear species in the world – brown bears, black bears, and polar bears – can be found in Alaska.
Now, we all have a chance to see the power and majesty of Alaska’s Arctic Bears thanks to an amazing series running on PBS “Nature: Bears of the last Frontier.” The three-part series looks at bears across Alaska, starting with coastal brown bears in Katmai National Park and working its way north to Arctic Bears. PBS’s Nature joins adventurer and bear biologist Chris Morgan on a year-long motorcycle odyssey deep into Alaska’s bear country.
Part 3 of this series – “Arctic Wanderers” – will follow bears on Alaska’s North Slope. This installment will feature polar bears on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and grizzly bears in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, one of our nation’s best-kept wild secrets. Please check you local PBS listings on May 22nd to see the show. And if you missed the first two episodes you can catch up by clicking here to watch them online.
It isn’t enough just to watch the bears and revel in what amazing animals they are, these bears need our help. We need to speak up and work to protect the Arctic lands they rely on from the threats of industrial development and climate change. The Nature series gives us an amazing opportunity to educate our friends, family, and colleagues about the unique places in America’s Arctic that are home to polar and grizzly bears, vast herds of caribou, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, and bowhead whales.
We have the opportunity to speak out for protection of these amazing places and the bears that live there. Please click here to send a letter asking the Obama Administration to seek protections for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the special places in the National Petroleum Reserve –Alaska, our nation’s largest block of public land.
- Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director