Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

New Rule Unifies Domestic and International Conservation Laws to Manage Polar Bear

December 11, 2008


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a Special Rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) providing for the conservation of the polar bear. While implementing important protections provided by the ESA, the special rule, in most instances, adopts existing conservation requirements for the polar bear under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Service protected the polar bear as a threatened species under the ESA on May 15, 2008.

"When I announced the protection of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act earlier this year, I outlined the need to continue to allow activities permissible under the stricter standards imposed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act," said Kempthorne. "This rule will protect polar bear populations, while ensuring the safety of communities living in close contact with the bears and allowing for continued environmentally sound development of our natural resources in the arctic region."

The special rule, issued under Section 4(d) of the ESA, adopts the conservation regulatory requirements of the MMPA and CITES for the polar bear in most instances; provides that incidental take of polar bears resulting from activities outside the bears current range is not prohibited under the ESA; clarifies that the Special Rule does not alter the Section 7 consultation requirements of the ESA; and applies the standard ESA protections for threatened species when an activity is not covered by an MMPA or CITES authorization or exemption. Further, this special rule does not affect any existing requirements under the MMPA, including incidental take restrictions, or those of CITES.

The 4(d) special rule does not affect the continued subsistence harvest or the production and sale of polar bear handicrafts by Alaska Natives. Those activities are already exempted under the ESA and the MMPA. The rule allows the continued noncommercial export of Native handicrafts and cultural exchange of items made from polar bear parts that would otherwise require a permit as a result of the polar bear listing under the ESA.

Onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities in Alaska have been effectively governed for decades by the more stringent MMPA provisions. Under the 4(d) rule, the Department of the Interior will continue to primarily rely on the more stringent provisions of the MMPA to manage that activity. However, the overlay of provisions of the ESA, such as the consultation requirements of section 7 of the ESA will still apply.

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