Arctic wildlife have evolved to live in a cold northern environment – timing their lives to coincide precisely with snow and ice melt, freeze-up, and other natural rhythms.
Rapid climatic 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 species like 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 shorebird, waterbird, and fish habitat. Finally, the timing of snow and ice melt is earlier, allowing more temperate species of bear, fox, fish, and seabird to move north and compete with their Arctic counterparts.
Compounding these bio-physical changes, are the threats and disturbances associated with increased industrial development and transportation of people and products. Development interests are taking advantage of environmental and economic conditions to increase offshore and terrestrial 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 coordinate stewardship activities. However, such coordination is rarely achieved. As a result, development increases piecemeal with scant attention to cumulative and long-term impacts or to the risk of oil spills and their effects on neighboring jurisdictions.
For more information, please see our Arctic Beringia page here.