June 14, 2012 in City, Outdoors, Region

Northwest polar bear researcher wins Indianapolis Prize

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Courtesy Indianapolis Prize photo

Steven Amstrup, of Kettle Falls, Wash., has won the prestigious, international Indianapolis Prize for conservationists.
(Full-size photo)

Dr. Steven Amstrup spent years plowing through unexplored frontiers of polar bear research in the Arctic.

Amstrup, of Kettle Falls, was the first to successfully put radio collars on Alaskan polar bears, leading to his discovery that more than half the mother bears den on drifting chunks of ice. The finding spelled disaster for the future of the species, as rising temperatures threaten their survival, he said.

Two-thirds of the bears could die off by mid-century as a consequence of the melting ice, Amstrup concluded, and by the end of the century, the species could disappear entirely.

This and other research he conducted over the last decade led to the listing of polar bears in 2008 as a threatened species on the Endangered Species Act. For his work, Amstrup today was named the 2012 winner of the Indianapolis Prize, a highly coveted award for the world’s leading conservationists.

The prize comes with $100,000, part of which Amstrup plans to donate to causes and the rest to make his house more carbon-neutral.

He hopes his work will encourage society to take global warming seriously. “All of the uncertainty you hear about in the media is only relevant if you don’t care what kind of society we leave for future generations,” Amstrup said.

Though the future looks troubling for polar bears, the problem is fixable, he said. Amstrup retired from research in 2010, but he continues to work on spreading the word about polar bears. The Indianapolis Prize gives him a bigger platform for his message, he said.


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