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Scientist honored for work in Arctic

Polar bear research wins $100,000 prize

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

Amstrup, of Kettle Falls, Wash., was the first person to succeed in putting 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 portended 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 melting ice, Amstrup concluded, and by 2100 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 under the Endangered Species Act. For his work, Amstrup was named Thursday 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; the rest he plans to use to make his house more carbon-neutral.

He said he hopes his work will ultimately 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.