As Arctic ice recedes, polar bear encounters increase for some Alaskans

The Anchorage Daily NewsMay 3, 2010 

For $16 an hour, Morgan VanHatten patrolled the streets of Kaktovik in a Ford pickup last fall armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and an iPhone full of Lil Wayne. Her mission: Shoo away the many polar bears that creep into town at the brink of whaling season.

"They come in and they usually just hang out at the whale bones and stuff," said VanHatten, a 25-year-old who would sometimes break up her shift to take college courses in business and human resources over the phone. "Some people that don't put their whale meat away in their yard, that's when they come into town because they smell it, and it would make my job kind of frustrating."

Researchers say that as Arctic sea ice recedes, the chance for human and polar-bear encounters is increasing along the North Slope. Now, following the 2008 listing of the bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a list of guidelines for warding the animals away from towns and villages.

Recently published in the Federal Register, which started a 30-day public comment period, the guidelines are mostly common-sense human-polar bear etiquette.

Build "bear exclusion cages" with bars at least one inch thick around entryways -- picture a shark cage on land -- so people can step safely outside their homes and look around for lurking bears.

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