The Bear in the Thaw: Anthropocene strategies of containment and deferral
Every autumn, polar bears who have waited all summer on the tundra make a tentative move for the coast of Hudson Bay and wait for the ice to form. The northern Manitoba town of Churchill lies in the path of many of these bears. In various forms since the 1960s, Churchill has run a polar bear monitoring and deterrence program (the Alert Program) to keep bears away from the inhabited center of the town. A polar bear holding facility, where bears are detained until they can be released on sea ice, forms a significant component of the program. The facility allows wildlife managers to contain the risks posed by polar bears and defer euthanization of the animals. Programs like this have gained traction as potentially non-lethal tactics for managing the increasingly frequent and violent encounters between humans and polar bears across the Canadian Arctic. However, the government of Nunavut along with many Inuit communities would prefer to increase hunting quotas as a means of controlling the threat of polar bears. While the Alert Program works well for Churchill, it is not generalizable to other locales. This paper reviews the context of the Alert Program and contends that its current form emerged from attempts to navigate a set of ecological, economic, and ethical tensions that are unique to Churchill. I suggest that while polar bear monitoring and deterrence programs may be a valuable tool, they are designed to protect a distinctly modernist and utopian settler mode of arctic living. As adaptive strategies that reconcile the desire to provide biosecurity with a despair at the inability to address climate change, the Alert Program demonstrates the tensions inherent in colonial production of arctic natures.