WCS North America

Arctic Beringia

 

Arctic wildlife have evolved to live in a cold northern climate – timing their lives to coincide precisely with snow and ice melt, freeze-up, and other natural rhythms. Our vision for Arctic Beringia is its continued vibrancy as one of the most productive marine areas and landscapes on the planet. WCS aims to ensure healthy populations of Arctic wildlife such as polar bear, walrus, arctic fox, muskoxen, seals, and shorebirds continue to thrive. We are working to protect these and other wildlife from pressures related to a rapidly changing climate and the onset of new industrial development while ensuring the region’s indigenous communities can continue to depend on local resources for food and cultural vitality. Implementing conservation in such a rapidly changing environment can only be effective through working with scientists, local experts, and indigenous communities. Wildlife Conservation Society is committed to this approach. Our collaborations foster understanding of what new risks wildlife face and how species can adapt to their changing environment. We support the development of effective and dynamic conservation strategies at local, national, and international venues. WCS is advancing strategies to protect key Arctic areas, develop best practices for the industrial activities that do occur, and foster local stewardship of wildlife and habitats. The long-term health of both wildlife and people are key measures of success in this globally important region.

Conservation Challenges

 Rapid climate warming – twice the rate of the rest of the world – is forcing wildlife to adapt at an unprecedented rate. Winter sea ice is thinner and summer sea ice is receding farther, negatively impacting wildlife such as the Pacific walrus, polar bear, and ringed seal. On land, warmer temperatures lengthen the growing season, allowing shrubs and trees to move north; melting permafrost and causing lakes to drain; and the normally ice-armored coastlines are softening and eroding, reducing critical bird and fish habitat. Finally, the timing of snow and ice melt is earlier, allowing wildlife normally found further south, such as grizzly bear, fox, and some seabirds, to move north and compete with their Arctic counterparts.

Eiders migrate past Barrow Alaska
Compounding these changes are the threats and disturbances associated with increased industrial development and transportation of people and products important to both local and global economies. Resource development interests are taking advantage of environmental and economic conditions to increase both offshore and land-based oil and gas exploration and production. The increasingly navigable northern sea routes facilitate escalation in maritime transport, including for petroleum products and chemicals. And, the availability of high-value mineral resources encourages large-scale mining in new areas.

Accomplishing effective conservation in Arctic Beringia involves a complex suite of political jurisdictions. Three nations – Russian Federation, United States, and Canada – as well as local Chukotka, Alaska, and Inuvialuit Settlement Region governments and indigenous political entities must co-ordinate stewardship activities. However, such co-ordination is rarely achieved. As a result, development increases piecemeal with little attention to cumulative and long-term impacts or to the risk of oil spills and their effects on neighbouring jurisdictions.

Goals

  • Advance policy and stewardship solutions that minimize transportation impacts on arctic wildlife
  • Increase knowledge about how to support healthy wildlife populations in a changing climate
  • Mitigate the impacts of development and resource extraction on wildlife and their habitats  

Latest Publications

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Contact

WCS Arctic Beringia
P.O. Box 751110 Fairbanks, AK 99775
(907) 750-9991

Key Staff

Martin Robards
Arctic Beringia Coordinator
Rebecca Bentzen
Arctic Beringia Avian Research Coordinator
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