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Monday, April 04, 2005

In Focus: polar bears

Originally uploaded by BlogAdmin.
This photo shows a mother polar bear and two cubs on the shore of the Beaufort Sea in the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS photo).

The U.S. Geological Survey is working on a study to develop a more accurate way to locate den sites in advance of oil exploration at ANWR. Maternal den sites are extremely difficult to locate, and very vulnerable to oil exploration.

Seismic exploration involves the movement of heavy "thumper trucks" and placement of receptors in a vast grid pattern across the frozen tundra. Maternal polar bears with newborn cubs can be chased out of winter dens by the
noise, vibration and human activities that go along with exploration. The result can be deadly both to the mother, which may be shot by alarmed oil workers, or to the cubs, which may be unprepared to endure winter conditions.

In 1985, during the only authorized oil exploration event in ANWR, a female polar bear abandoned her den in the coastal plain after seismic exploration vehicles tracked within 700 feet of it, even though regulations required a 0.8-kilometer buffer from known dens. This occurred despite the most extensive monitoring program ever for seismic exploration on the North Slope.