Well, its sort of new anyway… for years, Churchill polar bear folk have talked about a denning area east of the Nelson River, at the Manitoba-Ontario border. Manitoba Conservation has known that one exists but until now, the size of it has only been guessed at.
This summer, researchers confirmed that not only is there an active maternity denning area in Cape Tatnam Wildlife Management Area (south of Wapusk National Park) but it also may be much bigger than any of us though. In fact, it may even be larger than the denning area currently protected by Wapusk National Park and the Churchill Wildlife Management Area.
This is fantastic news, really. To me, this shows that the situation is not quite as dire for Churchill’s bears as many may think (and certainly not at the point where we should be relocating animals from the wild to zoos…). Its another example of how things are a little more complicated when it comes to polar bears than they may seem.
Yes, arctic sea ice is declining and, yes, the ice season on Hudson Bay was not as good as it should be… but there were still some big floes of ice along southern Hudson Bay in mid-summer and there are reports of healthy looking bears this summer.
It also comes at a time when a story about wildfires threatening polar bear denning areas near Churchill is gaining international coverage. Basically, the theory is that as the polar bear’s on-shore habitat becomes hotter and drier with climate change (something that hasn’t actually happened but whatever…) that the threat of forest fires could one day wipe out much of the denning area and the bears would not find a suitable replacement.
Manitoba Conservation is embarking on a three-year study of the area to really pin down some numbers and get an idea of what we are dealing with… I’ll be waiting for that one, sounds pretty cool.
The other local polar bear theory is that since 2004-ish more bears are coming off shore north of Churchill and more bears are consequently denning in that area as opposed to Wapusk National Park. We’ll have to wait until a research project confirms that one though… for now, its just coffee table fodder.
In the mean time, I find it increasingly hard to believe that the population is currently crashing – maybe Canadian Wildlife Service is just looking in the wrong places… who knows. At this point, I am still awaiting their new population study – that one should be equally interesting…
Now, I kind of doubt the population growing but I really think its still around 1000-1200 bears like its been for the last twenty years or so… just seems to be the carrying capacity of this area – of course, that was also before we had confirmed a new denning area…
At the very least, this is pretty good news for Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge – the summer and fall polar bear viewing lodge located kind of next door to this denning area… here is their website, check it out – sounds like they are having a pretty good season…