PBI House in Churchill is one of the brightest buildings in town. (Photo: Andrew Lovesey/Can Geo)
Although it is new, PBI House is not the first Canadian foothold for Montana-based PBI. The organization has been in Churchill for more than a decade, and for good reason. Of the 17 polar bear populations on the planet, 13 live within Canada’s borders — and the Western Hudson Bay population is not only one of the most easily accessible, but one that is increasingly under threat from to climate change and changing sea ice conditions.
“Churchill is where it all began for PBI, and the town has long been the launch pad for our outreach efforts,” says Krista Wright, PBI‘s executive director. “The new centre, with its in-house broadcast capabilities and lodging for scientists, will allow us to do even more.”
Inside the building, I have a chance to learn more about the elusive bear and speak with Amstrup, PBI’s chief scientist. The decline in polar bear populations is a contentious topic for researchers, with some arguing that the Western Hudson Bay has actually plateaued to a point of stability in recent years. Still, the data is clear that there has been a long-term trend of declining sea ice and declining population size.
Over the past 40 years, the local population has seen a 30 per cent decrease, 18 per cent of which has occurred in the past five years. Researchers at PBI House are tasked with educating the public not just on polar bear conservation but also on the harsh reality of climate change, which is changing northern landscapes.
Amstrup and his team remain concerned for the future of the population. “As long as the sea ice continues to decline, polar bears will be increasingly suffering,” he says.