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Assiniboine Park Conservancy project aims help to protect polar bears from wildfire

The Assiniboine Park Conservancy is launching a new research project looking to map polar bear denning habitat in Manitoba to help protect them from wildfires. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Assiniboine Park Conservancy says it’s working to help protect polar bears from wildfires in Manitoba’s north.

A new research project announced Wednesday will see the conservancy help map the denning habitats used by polar bears that may be at risk from wildfires.

“The Western Hudson Bay sub-population of polar bears is currently most at risk due to the impact of a warming Arctic environment,” said Dr. Stephen Petersen, director of conservation and research with the conservancy.

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“Protecting their denning areas from forest fires is critical to the conservation of the species in Manitoba.”

Female polar bears build dens to give them a safe space to give birth and take care of their cubs during the first months after they’re born, according to a release from the conservancy.

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“For polar bears, the impacts of climate change include a shorter annual sea ice season, a longer fasting period on land, changes in the freeze–thaw cycles that can result in den collapse, and disruption to their food chain,” said Petersen.

“Climate change is also a key factor influencing the frequency and extent of wildfires, which can destroy denning habitat for southern sub-populations of polar bears.”

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The conservancy says the project will build on previously published work mapping denning areas across Canada using existing scientific data, knowledge from resource users, and new information about polar bear denning in Manitoba.

The data collected can be used by the Province of Manitoba in future fire management strategies, the conservancy says.

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The project is funded in part through a $90,000 grant from the Canadian Polar Bear Habitat, a not-for-profit charity dedicated to supporting polar bear conservation in Canada.

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