Remote Identification of Polar Bear Maternal Den Habitat in Northern Alaska
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) give birth in dens of ice and snow to protect their altricial young. During the snow-free season, we visited 25 den sites located previously by radiotelemetry and characterized the den site physiognomy. Seven dens occurred in habitats with minimal relief. Eighteen dens (72%) were in coastal and river banks. These "banks" were identifiable on aerial photographs. We then searched high-resolution aerial photographs (n=3000) for habitats similar to those of the 18 dens. On aerial photos, we mapped 1782 km of bank habitats suitable for denning. Bank habitats comprised 0.18% of our study area between the Colville River and the Tamayariak River in northern Alaska. The final map, which correctly identified 88% of bank denning habitat in this region, will help minimize the potential for disruptions of maternal dens by winter petroleum exploration activities.