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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are threatened by sea-ice loss due to climate change, which is concurrently opening the Arctic to natural resource extraction and a broader scope of national security responsibilities. Mitigating the risk of human–bear conflicts is an emerging challenge as many polar bears spend longer ice-free summers on land where they have limited access to food and come into more frequent contact with people. We investigated a suite of physical and ecological variables that influence the timing of polar bear arrival on, and departure from, land using remote-sensing data on sea-ice extent and satellite telemetry data from 72 radio-collared adult female polar bears from 1986 to 2015. Analyses encompassed the coastline of the Southern Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, USA, and focused on zones within a 35-km radius (mean daily travel distance of a polar bear) of 5 military installations. Sea ice in the Southern Beaufort Sea retreated approximately 1 month earlier in spring, and reformed 1 month later in fall, in 2015 compared to 1979. In generalized linear mixed models, the most important predictors of polar bear arrival and departure were the dates of sea-ice breakup and formation, respectively, in localized marine areas surrounding each military zone. Region-wide sea-ice conditions also influenced land use, although to a lesser extent. We found that polar bears spent longer periods on land in the military zones compared to outside the zones, which may reflect increased land use in areas with human activity and potential attractants (noting that some military installations were in proximity to other human settlements). Our results demonstrate that the timing of polar bear land use in northern Alaska is influenced by sea-ice conditions on multiple spatial scales. This information can be used to predict and manage the presence of polar bears around military installations and other places of interest.

Additional Files

RegehrEtAl-Supporting-Information.docx (384 kB)
Supporting Information