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In August 2011, one person died and four other ones were seriously injured under a polar bear attack on a camp in Tempelfjord (see August 2011 news on this site for further details). The Norwegian police has now published a report on the technical condition of the safety equipment. Both the alarm fence and the rifle had failed, which contributed to the tragic outcome of the incident. Four attempts to shoot the bear failed, the bear was shot with a fifth cartridge, which had been in the rifle before, but had been ejected without firing and was then found on the ground.
According to the Norwegian police, both the rifle and the alarm fence worked when handled properly. As had been assumed before, it seems now safe to say that misusage of the alarm fence and the rifle contributed to the tragic development. Based on the information available, it is however impossible to say if it might have been possible to shoot the bear before the victim was killed. The bear was extremely aggressive and the attack went very rapidly.
Thor Larsen is a well-known polar bear biologist. He was research director at the Norwegian Polar Institute and is now professor emeritus. With a large number of expeditions over more than half a century, he is one of the veterans of Norwegian polar research.
Recently, Thor Larsen has expressed substantial criticism about the latest proposal of a management plan for east Svalbard, which includes large so-called scientific reference areas. It can be expected that public access to these areas will be significantly more difficult, if not impossible. Larsen critizises that the plan is kept upright although several working groups of the Sysselmannen have concluded that conflicts between tourism and science can not be identified at the time being and are not expected in the future either. The actual environmental impact of organized tourism is described as minimal by these working groups. For example, it was feared that tourist visits to walrus haulout sites might lead to disturbance. Monitoring with automatic cameras over several years has, however, not yielded any evidence to support this. According to Larsen, remaining problems such as local erosion can be solved with the implementation of site-specific guidelines wherever needed. A need for closing large areas is not seen, neither from a scientific nor from an environmental perspective, writes Larsen, also pointing out that the areas in question are all inside the nature reserves, which are already enjoying strict protection. The current regulations are well capable of protecting scientific and environmental needs, according to Larsen.
Larsen critizises that higher administrative levels keep the proposal to reserve large areas as “scientific reference areas” upright despite of this obvious lack of data which might support such a drastic step. He also points out that the scientific quality of the papers that suggest the proposal is not meeting any standards. Larsen supposes that relevant institutions now insist on their proposal because of a feared “loss of face” and reminds of a common-sense rule for mountaineering that is well-known in Norway: it is never too late to turn around.
Thor Larsen’s complete letter was published last Friday in Svalbardposten (02/2012) in Norwegian. An English translation can be downloaded here.
The old radio station Isfjord Radio at Kapp Linné at the mouth of Isfjord was abandoned about 10 years ago. Today, the protected buildings are used only during the spring and summer season for touristic purposes. For the rest of the year, the houses are standing empty, mostly without supervision.
Employees of the owner SNSG (Store Norske Spitsbergen Grubekompani) have discovered a diesel leakage. It is uncertain for how long diesel could escape from the tank, but the Sysselmannen assumes that up to 100,000 or 150,000 litres may have entered the local environment. The leakage happened in a generator room.
The polar winter makes it impossible to take counteractive measures.
The ongoing controversy about the East Svalbard management plan has been covered repeatedly on these pages, most recently in early December, 2011. Now 17 expedition leaders have given their comments and made alternative suggestions in a letter-to-the-editor of Svalbardposten, which was published in Norwegian on last Friday (Svalbardposten 01/2012). An English translation can be downloaded here (englisch).
Many of the undersigned, including the owner of this website, have university-level education in natural sciences and are dedicated environmentalists with experience from areas, where tourism is successfully controlled, such as Antarctica.