Conserving the Nature of America
Service Publishes Proposed Incidental Take Regulations for Polar Bears and Walrus in Beaufort Sea

June 7, 2016


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

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Alaska Region published in the Federal Register proposed Incidental Take Regulations (ITR) for the non-lethal, incidental take of small numbers of polar bears and Pacific walruses associated with ongoing oil and gas activities in the Beaufort Sea and neighboring coast.  This is a renewal of regulations that have been in place since 1993, and have been successful in minimizing the effects of industrial activities on polar bears and Pacific walruses, while monitoring the levels of such interactions.

In Alaska, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protects polar bears, Pacific walruses, northern sea otters and other species by prohibiting "take" of these animals.  The MMPA provides for specific exceptions to the prohibition on taking, including a provision that allows U.S. citizens to take small numbers of marine mammals incidental to specified activities.

The oil and gas industry, through the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, petitioned the Service to develop these ITRs.  The action is specified under Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA, which authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals (including polar bears, Pacific walruses, and northern sea otters) by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region for up to five years.

Permissible methods of taking and other means of affecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings, are prescribed as part of the authorization process.  Where appropriate, ITRs can provide considerable conservation and management benefits to potentially impacted marine mammals.  Activities conducted under ITRs must adopt measures to minimize any adverse impacts to marine mammals, their habitat, and their availability for subsistence use.

The ITRs also specify monitoring and reporting requirements which provide a basis for evaluating potential impacts of current and future activities on marine mammals.  Without incidental take authorizations industry activities could still continue, and any “take” of marine mammals would be a violation of the MMPA, however, the Service would have no formal means of communicating with industry to require the monitoring and mitigation of industry activities.

You can view this proposed rule, the associated draft environmental assessment and other related documents at under Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2016–0060. You may submit comments on the proposed rule by one of the following methods:

  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2016–0060, Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5275 Leesburg Pike, MS: BPHC, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.
  • Electronic submission: Federal eRulemaking Portal at: Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2016–0060.

We will post all comments at You may request that we withhold all personal identifying information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. Comments must be received within 30 days of the publication of the proposed rule.

For further information or to request a copy of the rule, please contact: Christopher Putnam, Marine Mammals Management Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road MS-341, Anchorage, AK 99503, Telephone 907–786–3844, or Email: Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1–800–877–8339, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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