From the first encounters with indigenous hunters of the Arctic and
the earliest explorers, polar bears have captured the attention of Arctic
residents and visitors. Polar bears have been and continue to be an
resource for coastal communities throughout northern Alaska. Polar bears
provide a source of meat and raw materials for handicrafts, including
functional clothing such as mittens, boots (mukluks), parka ruffs and
pants. Polar bears and polar bear hunting were an important part of
earlier religions, myths and legends, and continue to play an important
role in the Inupiat and Yupik cultures; polar bear hunting is a source
of pride, prestige, and accomplishment.
Prior to passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), polar
bears in Alaska were reduced by excessive hunting. The MMPA now prohibits
polar bear hunting except by Alaska Natives for subsistence and handicraft
purposes. Harvest monitoring has been conducted since 1980.
Today, residents from 14 villages actively hunt polar bears; the level
of hunting effort varies by village and by year. The Alaska Nanuuq Commission
was established in 1994
to represent Native interests regarding polar bears. In addition, a
small bear viewing tourism industry is developing in some coastal communities.
Oil and gas development started on the North Slope around 1969. Operators
work closely with the FWS to ensure that their activities have minimal
impact on polar bears or their habitat.
Last updated: September 10, 2008