Marine Mammals Management
Alaska Region


Polar Bear

Polar bears are the largest carnivores and a unique symbol of the Arctic. Nineteen populations of polar bears are distributed in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia. The world wide population is estimated to be 22,000-25,000 bears. Two populations occur in Alaska: the southern Beaufort Sea stock, shared with Canada; and the Bering Chukchi/Seas stock, shared with the Russian Federation (Range Map)

In Alaska, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protects polar bears by prohibiting "take" of polar bears. The MMPA provides for specific exceptions to the prohibition on taking, including a provision that allows Alaska Natives to hunt polar bears for subsistence and the creation of handicrafts.

Worldwide, polar bear populations remain relatively stable; however, climate change, contamination of the Arctic environment, potential over-harvest, and increasing human development in polar bear habitat pose conservation challenges for polar bears.

Polar Bear Management in Alaska

The Service has published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making that has two purposes: first to solicit public comments on developing and administering a co-management partnership with Alaska Natives for their subsistence use of polar bears in Alaska; second we are soliciting preliminary ideas about the best way we can ensure that polar bear take limits established by the Polar Bear Bilateral Commission for the Alaska-Chukotka population (Chukchi Sea) are not exceeded.  Because Alaska Native harvest of polar bears has never been federally regulated, we believe it is important to hear from the public, and especially Alaska Natives, on potential management options for this subsistence harvest.

We will take public comment through January 9, 2017.

In December 2006, the Service published a status assessment. Information in the assessment was used to form the 12-month finding, which was that listing the polar bear was warranted.

Polar Bear Critical Habitat

In 2010, the Service designated critical habitat for the polar bear through a formal rulemaking process. The designation was set aside in 2013 as a result of legal challenges brought forward by several groups. That action was recently reversed by the courts and the original designation has been reinstated.

Final Rule Listing the Polar Bear as a Threatened Species Under the Endangered Species Act and Status Reviews

On May 15, 2008, the Service published a Final Rule in the Federal Register listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat. Any significant changes in the abundance, distribution, or existence of sea ice will have effects on the number and behavior of these animals and their prey. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species. Under the ESA, the Service is required to periodically review the status of the species.

Final Polar Bear Special Rule and Environmental Assessment

On February 20, 2013, the Service published a Final Special Rule for the polar bear that established how protections under the Endangered Species Act would be applied.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

Conservation Management Plan
Thanks to the hard work of a diverse team of stakeholders, known as the Polar Bear Recovery Team, the Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan (Plan) is now complete. The Plan serves as a practical guide to implementation of polar bear conservation in the United States. It describes the conditions under which polar bears would no longer need the protections of the Endangered Species Act and lays out a collective strategy geared towards achieving those conditions. A parallel path is laid out for improving the status of polar bears under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

For more information, contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Marine Mammals Management office at 1-800-362-5148.

Polar Bear. Susanne Miller/USFWS. Click to enlarge.

Last updated: March 2017