Norway just built a new town—for polar bears. Here’s what the new rewilding project means for Arctic habitats.

For over 100 years, Scandinavians mined coal around Sveagruva, Svalbard. Now, nearly all traces of the town’s industrial history have been cleared away, paving—or, perhaps, unpaving?—a fresh habitat for polar bears and Arctic foxes to return and thrive. 

So far, it seems to be a success. The project is the biggest rewilding endeavor in Norwegian history, and polar bear, reindeer, and fox populations are wandering back into what was once their natural habitat.

“There is less and less untouched nature in the world, and the restoration of nature and ecosystems is, therefore, one of the most important goals in the new global nature agreement,” said Climate and Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide, according to the Good News Network. “The clean-up in Sveagruva is an important contribution to this.”

The rewilding effort involved weeks of photographing and scanning the entire town, so that future tourists will be able to explore a 3D model of it at a nearby outpost after it’s gone. Then, all structures—with the exception of a handful of historic buildings dating back to 1946—were dismantled. The terrain now appears untouched, and rivers have begun to return to their original, wild courses, according to a government press release about the efforts. Even the polar bears can’t tell there used to be a town of 300 residents here, it says.

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