U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Cooperative Agreements for Polar Bear Conservation

U.S. - Russia Bilateral Agreement

treaty between Native and government representatives of the U.S. and Russia was signed in 2000 due to the need for coordinated management of the shared Alaska-Chukotka polar bear population that inhabits the Chukchi and northern Bering seas.  This treaty identified goals to improve polar bear conservation and safeguard the cultural and traditional use of polar bears by Native peoples. For Native peoples of Chukotka this treaty re-establishes their ability to hunt polar bears for subsistence purposes. Prior to this treaty, any hunting of polar bears (including by Native peoples) had been illegal in Russia since 1956.  Alaska Natives have supported the right of their Russian neighbors and have long recognized the need to cooperatively manage this population to ensure that polar bears are available for future generations.

Recent implementation of this treaty, which began in 2007, established a joint U.S.-Russia Commission responsible for making management decisions concerning polar bears in this region. The Commission is composed of a Native and federal representative from each country.

At a meeting in June 2010, the Commission decided to place an upper limit on harvest from the Alaska-Chukotka population of 19 female and 39 male (for a total of 58) polar bears per year based on the recommendation of the scientific working group and identified subsistence needs.  That harvest limit has been re-3stablished by the Commission each year, and is split evenly between Native peoples of Alaska and Chukotka. The Alaskan share of the harvest is 29 polar bears (9 females).

Taking Limits

Proposed Rules

On November 8, 2016, the Service published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule making that has two purposes: 1) to solicit public comments on developing and administering a co-management partnership with Alaska Natives for their subsistence use of polar bears in Alaska; and 2) to solicit preliminary ideas about the best way to ensure 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. The public comment period closed January 9, 2017.

 

Scientific Working Group of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Agreement

In 2000, the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation on the Conservation and Management of the Alaska-ChukotkaPolar Bear Population (hereafter the “U.S.-Russia Bilateral Agreement”) was signed establishing a four-member U.S.-Russia Polar Bear Commission (hereafter the “Commission”), consisting of a federal and Native representative from each country. The Commission is responsible for making management decisions for the Alaska-Chukotka (AC) polar bear population, which is shared between the U.S. and Russia (also referred to as the “Chukchi Sea” polar bear subpopulation by the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, noting that management boundaries of the Alaska-Chukotka population and Chukchi Sea subpopulation are somewhat different).  

The U.S.-Russia Bilateral Agreement also established a Scientific Working Group (SWG) that is responsible for providing expert advice to the Commission on the basis of science and Traditional Knowledge. The SWG exists to help the Commission meet the dual goals of conserving and protecting the AC polar bear population, and of providing opportunities for sustainable subsistence use by Native people in a manner consistent with national laws, as specified by the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Agreement.  

The SWG consists of American and Russian co-chairs, plus up to seven members from each country. Members are selected and confirmed by the Commission on the basis of having scientific or traditional knowledge of polar bear biology, habitat, or wildlife management; and of having a direct and active role in research, management, or conservation of the AC polar bear population.

Polar Bear on Shore
Polar Bear on Shore. Photo Credit: Eric V. Regher

 

For questions or comments please contact the American co-chair of the SWG:

Eric V. Regehr, Ph.D.
Marine Mammals Management, Polar Bears
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1011 E. Tudor Rd., MS341
Anchorage, AK 99503

Office Phone: (907) 786-3913
Email: Eric_Regehr@fws.gov

 

SWG membership for the period autumn 2015 to autumn 2016

American members

  • Eric Regehr, co-chair (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
  • Andrew Von Duyke (North Slope Borough)
  • Charles Brower  (Alaska Nanuuq Commission)
  • Hilary Cooley (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
  • Karyn Rode (U.S. Geological Survey)
  • Kimberly Titus (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
  • Mike Pederson (North Slope Borough)
  • Ryan Wilson (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Russian members

  • Stanislav Belikov, co-chair (All-Russian Research Institute of Nature Protection)
  • Anatoly Kochnev  (Chukotka Federal Fisheries Research Institute)
  • Andrei Boltunov (Marine Mammal Council of Russia)
  • Ilia Mordvinstev (Russian Academy of Sciences)
  • Nikita Ovsyanikov (independent biologist)
  • Vladilen Kavry (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North)
  • Vladimir Etylin (Chukotka Autonomous Region)
  • Yury Tototto  (Marine Hunters Union)

 

Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears
(Range States Agreement)

In 1973, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the Soviet Union, and the United States (collectively referred to as “the Range States”) met and signed the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (commonly referred to as “the Range States Agreement”). The Agreement was created due to concern over the dramatic increase in polar bear harvest levels, largely as a result of sport hunting, and calls for cooperative international management and protection of polar bears. Each country agreed to take appropriate action to protect the ecosystems of which polar bears are a part, and to manage polar bear populations in accordance with sound conservation practices based on the best available scientific data. In addition, that Agreement allows for traditional harvest of polar bears by local people using traditional methods, but request additional protections for polar bear family groups and denning bears. 
The Range States adopted a 10-year Circumpolar Action Plan (CAP) in 2015. The CAP builds on international cooperation to conserve polar bears across their range. The vision of the CAP is to secure the long-term persistence of polar bears in the wild that represent the genetic, behavioral, and ecological diversity of the species. This vision cannot be achieved without adequate mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by the global community. The objectives of the CAP are to:

  • Minimize threats to polar bears and their habitat;
  • Communicate to the public, policy makers, and legislators around the world the importance of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions to polar bear conservation;
  • Ensure the preservation and protection of essential habitat for polar bears;
  • Ensure responsible harvest management systems today that will sustain polar bear subpopulation for future generation;
  • Manage human-bear interactions to ensure human safety and to minimize polar bear injury or mortality; and,
  • Ensure that international legal trade of polar bears is carried out according to conservation principles and that poaching and illegal trade is curtailed.

Inuvialuit-Inupiat Polar Bear Management Agreement in the Southern Beaufort Sea

The Inuvialuit-Inupiat Polar Bear Management Agreement in the Southern Beaufort Sea (I-I Agreement), signed in 1988 and reaffirmed in 2000 by the Inuvialuit Game Council, and the North Slope Borough Fish and Game Management Committee, is a voluntary user-to-user agreement between Inuvialuit (in Canada) and Inupiat (in Alaska) hunters. The I-I Agreement provides for annual quotas, hunting seasons, protection of bears in or during construction of dens, females accompanied by cubs-of-the-year and yearlings, collection of information and specimens to monitor harvest composition, and annual meetings to exchange information on the harvest, research, and management. The I-I also establishes a Joint Commission to implement the I-I Agreement, and a Technical Advisory Committee, consisting of biologists from agencies in the U.S. and Canada involved in research and management, to collect and evaluate scientific data and make recommendations to the Joint Commission.

For additional information regarding the I-I Agreement, please visit the North Slope Borough’s website