Last Wednesday, a polar bear wandered around Longyearbyen during the morning. The bear went past Svalbard Snøscooterutleie and between the houses along Vei 238, after first being scared away when it was at the dog kennels near the outskirts of town.
"No authority is given the responsibility to ensure that Longyearbyen, and other settlements on Svalbard, are not getting visits from polar bears," said Gov. Odd Olsen Ingerø. "The thing is that we live in a polar bear country and that it can actually happen that the polar bears go towards and into the city. In my view it is not possible to have an contingency plan that prevents polar bear from going into settlements. This means that everyone must be vigilant and notify the governor if they observe polar bears in or near the city."
Will protect the town
There have been several polar bears around Longyearbyen in summer and autumn, and Jon Aars, a polar bear researcher with the Norwegian Polar Institute, predicts there will be more bears visiting in the future.
Ingerø said he will not speculate whether there are more or fewer bears, and that they are not considering changing their procedures.
"We will continue to come out when we get messages about bears in town," he said. "We will come out with the resources available to deal with the specific situation. This makes the governor primarily responsible for safeguarding the population, but also for preventing the occurrence of situations where it becomes necessary to kill a protected animal."
The governor tries to divert and get rid of the bear as soon as possible.
"We can scare them away, or stun them and fly them away by helicopter," Ingerø said. "Unfortunately, we also have written decisions involving euthanasia."
Bears have been killed
The governor himself has written two such decisions during his previous fixed term.
"It must have been in the spring of 2003 for a bear near Longyearbyen," Ingerø said. "And then we had a killing in Barentsburg during Christmas 2004/2005."
What is needed to decided to kill a bear?
"That we do not find other solutions to the situation," Ingerø said. "Then there is, of course, a question of cost. It costs a lot to keep a bear supervised, drug it and fly it away by helicopter. We must look at each individual situation. It is an assessment of the security which is essential for the steps we believe are necessary in a particular case."
According to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, all must safeguard themselves against polar bears when they leave the settlements in the archipelago.
Should people also be doing something to safeguard themselves against bears within the city?
"I think that we need to do as we've done before," said Sidsel Svarstad, a police chief inspector for the governor. "If you go out of town, you have to have a weapon. Inside the settlement, one should always be careful. If you are out early in the morning, before there are cars and much traffic, we do not control that. A bear can appear anywhere at any time. Then you should follow up, as one always does."
Patrol cars are deployed when bears sightings are reported, but why not every morning if their appearance is unpredictable?
"We will not be able to say with 100 percent certainty that there is not a bear even if we drive patrol," Svarstad said. "And we can not fly out by helicopter every morning. Each individual must be careful. And when someone suspects a bear, we always search out a large area."