Help Mother Bears Keep Their Cubs Safe

Protect Polar Bears




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Manitoba has lost a third of its polar bear population.  We will lose even more as the ice in Hudson Bay continues to retreat.

If we act now, we can help mother bears protect their cubs. 

Female polar bears spend up to eight months a year on land in Manitoba’s Hudson Bay Lowlands region. This is where they give birth and raise their cubs to become healthy adults.

But mining companies are eyeing the region, seeking exploration licenses and staking claims. Mines and associated road networks pose very real dangers to the already threatened polar bears and their shrinking population.

Commendably, regional Indigenous nations are moving forward with their efforts to protect lands and waters in the region.

These initiatives could protect polar bear maternity dens, along with other critical habitats for a wide array of wildlife.

Safeguarding these large areas in the Hudson Bay Lowlands would also protect the region’s globally significant levels of carbon, which if released into the atmosphere through mining, would further accelerate global climate change.

 

Join us in the fight to protect polar bears in Manitoba.
 
Show your support for protecting the lands they need to survive.

 


 

Take Action

Protect Polar Bear Habitat

Help mother bears protect their cubs. Tell Premier Heather Stefanson to support Indigenous Nations working to establish protected areas using our simple letter writing tool.

Send A Letter

Manitoba’s Polar Bears - A Uniquely Threatened Treasure

Manitoba is home to the largest concentration of polar bears in the world. 

As the ice melts in Hudson Bay, hundreds of bears make their way to dry land to rest, raise their cubs and wait for the next hunting season.

The stunning sight of polar bear cubs playing on the tundra and splashing in the sea draws thousands of tourists to Chuchill every year.

Polar bears are under intense stress as climate change melts the sea ice they depend upon to hunt.

Mining companies have staked claims near areas where mother bears dig their dens.

We must protect the lands they depend upon to raise their young and rest during increasingly long summers.

What Makes Manitoba's Polar Bears Unique 

Manitoba’s bears, which live in the southern range of polar bear habitat, are uniquely adapted to warmer weather. Yet they are also at the greatest risk from climate change.

Polar bears in the Hudson Bay region already spend more time on land—and more time fasting—than bears in Greenland, Norway, Russia, Alaska, and Nunavut.

They are the only polar bears to dig earthen dens because winter often comes too late for snow dens. 

Pregnant bears in the Hudson Bay region fast for up to eight months—twice as long as more northern bears—due to earlier ice breakup and the need to travel as much as 150 kilometers inland to denning sites.

polar bear populations in decline  


Manitoba's polar bears belong to the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation. After a period of intense hunting, the 1973 polar bear conservation treaty helped this subpopulation rebound. Population estimates fluctuated somewhat, but were pegged at around 1,200 bears from 1978 through 1995.

The Western Hudson Bay population is currently estimated to be about 800 bears, a 33 per cent decline. 

Manitoba lists the polar bear as threatened under The Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act, and as protected under The Wildlife Act.

The Canadian government considers polar bears to be a species of "Special Concern" while the global population is listed as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.




Why We Need to Protect Polar Bear Maternity Dens in Manitoba


It takes an enormous amount of energy to dig a den in the banks and ridges of the vast peatlands that make up the Manitoba portion of the Hudson Bay Lowlands.

Pregnant bears save energy by reusing existing earthen dens. Dens typically last about a dozen years, though some have been found to be in use for as much as 29 years.

Around 150-200 bears produce cubs every year in the Western Hudson Bay region. 

Finding a suitable maternity denning site is difficult in a region dominated by bogs, fens, lakes and ponds. Females need to avoid hundreds of male polar bears which gather along the Hudson Bay coastline and will attack cubs. Polar bears are also creatures of habit: they tend to return to the same denning areas where they were raised. 

So pregnant polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay region travel seven to 150 kilometers inland to find a safe place to give birth and shelter their cubs. There is evidence that some maternity den sites have been in use for at least 200 years.

Searching for a new den site and then digging deep into a frozen peat bank is hard work that uses up much-needed energy ahead on an eight-month fast. 

Losing polar bear maternity den habitat reduces the chance that cubs will survive
 

Denning habitat in Manitoba faces a number of threats, including human activity, forest fires and climate change. 

Conserving vast tracts of land where mother polar bears raise their young will help this imperiled species survive.

Wapusk National Park protects some polar bear maternity denning sites south of Churchill to the Nelson River but the majority of the denning sites in the region remain unprotected.

Mining companies are exploring the region in the hope of setting up operations. Mining sites and associated road networks would impair polar bear habitats.

Commendably, regional First Nations are working to establish protected and conserved areas that could secure healthy homes for polar bears.

Take action now to protect polar bear maternity dens! Tell Premier Heather Stefanson it's past time to make polar bears’ survival a priority.

 



A Vibrant, Carbon-Rich Landscape


The continued health of the vibrant Hudson Bay Lowlands and the polar bears that live there are key ingredients to maintaining healthy and prosperous regional communities.

Quests for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas present opportunities to secure this prosperity and enshrine Manitoba as a global leader in large landscape conservation.

The tundra and subarctic forests surrounding Manitoba’s Hudson Bay coast yield incredible abundance that sustains both the people and wildlife that thrive there.

Wolves, foxes and wolverine hunt and scavenge on the heels of moose, hares and thunderous herds of caribou that in turn feed on the plants and lichen anchored in the deep, peat rich soils. In summers, over 250 species of birds call the region home.

The incredible scale and significance of such an opportunity is often lost on Canadians with little reference point for measures of ‘vastness’.

Indigenous Nations are working to establish protected and conserved areas within their traditional lands, which cover tens of thousands of square kilometers. This is in addition to the existing Wapusk National Park (11,475 km2).

This vast landscape is particularly carbon rich and its protection would offer a significant piece of Manitoba’s contribution to addressing global climate change.

 

Take Action

Protect Polar Bear Habitat

Help mother bears protect their cubs. Tell Premier Heather Stefanson to make it a priority by using our simple letter writing tool.

Send A Letter

Eight Months Without Eating: Manitoba’s polar bears have longest fasting period of any mammal


Pregnant polar bears in this region fast for up to eight months—one of the longest fasting period of any mammal—and can lose as much as half their body weight while nursing their cubs. 

Manitoba’s bears enter their dens two to three months before giving birth in order to conserve energy and escape the heat. 

Cubs are born between late November and early December. Polar bear cubs grow rapidly on their mother’s rich milk, from a birth weight of around 600 grams to 10-22 kilos by three months. 

Cubs typically emerge from their cozy den in late February or early March. If spring rains come too soon, dens could collapse before the cubs are strong enough to leave.

Cubs stay near the den for a couple weeks before beginning the long trek to the sea ice where their hungry mother can finally hunt for seals. 

The female and her cubs must make the most of their time before sea ice breakup in order to restore her depleted reserves and to boost her cubs’ chances of surviving their first year of life.

Cubs typically stay with their mothers for 2.5 years, nursing until about two years of age. 

Adult females typically breed every three years. The hunting season prior to impregnation is critical for accumulating large stores of fat to sustain them through the lengthy fast. 

Destruction or loss of denning sites reduces the chance of successful reproduction. Digging a new den or significantly extending the search for an existing den would deplete much-needed fat resources.



How Melting Sea Ice Threatens Polar Bears


Polar bears in Manitoba are now spending an average of about 30 extra days on land each summer and fall than they did in the 1980s. A recent study found that polar bear fat stores fell by 56 per cent from 1985 to 2018 while the open water period increased by 9.9 days per decade.

The vast majority of a polar bear’s energetic intake comes from bearded and ringed seals, which depend on sea ice to carry out their life cycle, to give birth to their pups, and for moulting. They’re only found where sea ice is present.

Polar bears rely on these seals to build up their fat stores in the spring so they can sustain themselves through the ice-free period in the summer and into autumn.

A polar bear can eat up to 10% to 20% of its weight in a single meal. For an adult polar bear weighing 500 kilograms, that means they could be eating 50 to 100 kilograms of seal fat in a single meal. That’s equivalent to eating about 1,000 Big Mac meals!

The challenge with global warming is a longer ice-free period that now bumps into the bears’ spring and fall feeding periods. These are critical periods — if they get too long, the bears won’t have enough fat reserves to last. The average bear loses about one kilogram (1,000 grams) per day.

There are also new predators competing with polar bears for food as a result of the loss of sea ice. Jeff Higdon and Steve Ferguson at the Fisheries and Oceans department in Winnipeg tracked sightings of killer whales in the eastern Arctic over time. Orcas are not ice adapted — the big dorsal fin on their back keeps them out of the sea ice for the most part — but as the sea ice retreats for longer and longer periods, they’ve started to move in. 

 


Related Information and Links

 

What are Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas?

Kitaskiinan Kawekanawaynichikatek IPCA 

Kitaskiinan Kawekanawaynichikatek, which translates in English to “The Land we want to Protect”, is an initiative bringing five Nayhenaway Inninewuk Nations together to discuss creating a new Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in their shared homelands along the Hudson Bay coast. It includes York Factory First Nation (YFFN), Shamattawa First Nation (SFN), Fox Lake Cree Nation (FLCN), Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN), and War Lake First Nation (WLFN). 

Aski Pahminahmaswin – Tataskweyak Cree Nation Indigenous Protected Area 

The Tataskweyak Cree Nation Lands Department and community will work to identify key areas for future Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and land stewardship in the central and northern portions of their traditional territory.

Manitoba's Caribou River Provincial Park to Wapusk National Park

The Manitoba Metis Federation Inc. will work towards the establishment of an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in the area between Caribou River Provincial Park and Wapusk National Park.

Seal River Watershed Indigenous Protected Area Initiative

The Sayisi Dene First Nation will work with local First Nations to develop permanent protection of the Seal River Watershed as an Indigenous Protected Area.

Canada Target 1 Challenge

 

Related Articles

 

Take Action

Protect Polar Bear Habitat

Help mother bears protect their cubs. Tell Premier Heather Stefanson to support Indigenous Nations working to establish protected areas using our simple letter writing tool.

Send A Letter

Why are Polar Bears At Risk?


Climate Change

An overarching threat to sea ice habitat, climate change and its projected progression is anticipated to greatly reduce polar bear access to hunting grounds while increasing their onland fasting period.

Human Activities

Industrial scale mineral and hydroelectric development and their associated road networks carry inherent risks to the lands and wildlife with which they overlap. If operations are expanded without foresight, tourism can also have negative impacts on the natural environment.

Decreased Prey Populations

Loss of ice and reduced snow cover also has negative impacts on polar bear prey populations as seals rely on this environment to rear their pups.