Polar bears may be encountered in the course of activities in northern Alaska, and a key mission of Marine Mammals Management is preventing human-bear interactions that threaten both human and polar bear safety. Please see the Safety in Polar Bear Habitat and Polar Bear Interaction Guidelines for polar bear safety guidance. The Service has also issued Polar Bear Deterrence Guidelines that describe passive and preventative deterrence measures that anyone may use (no authorization required) to avoid a potentially harmful interaction with a polar bear. These measures include actions such as:
- blowing whistles, airhorns, sirens, or the horn of a stationary automobile
- using lights, voices, or fences
- using vehicles or boats to deter or block an approaching polar bear
- building any type of safety exclusion
More aggressive deterrence methods, such as use of non-lethal deterrence rounds, are allowed under the MMPA for protection of property or safety. However, it is important to understand that there is required skill in using any type of non-lethal or more aggressive tools to ensure polar bears are not seriously injured or killed. In some instances when individuals or groups have specific needs, the Service may enter into an agreement to provide further clarity on hazing polar bears. These agreements often require Service-approved training to use advanced, “active” methods to deter polar bears away from an area of human activity. “Active” hazing methods include:
- using cracker shells, pepper balls, bean bags, or rubber bullets
- approaching polar bears with dogs
- approaching polar bears with a vehicle or other conveyance to actively push it away from an area
Individuals that haze polar bears with these tools must be covered by an intentional take Letter of Authorization (LOA) issued by the Service
See Letter of Authorization Requests for more information on obtaining an intentional take LOA. Note that intentional take LOAs are normally requested for extended work at field sites or facilities and not for transportation work, aircraft activities, research activities, or site visits that do not involve overnight camps.
No authorization is needed from the Service to carry a firearm or bear spray for self-defense or to use any available hazing tool when human life is endangered by an aggressive polar bear. The Service also does not require any specific authorization for hiring or serving as a “bear guard.” A bear guard can be anyone whose duty it is to watch for and respond to bears, and we recommend having a designated bear guard when conducting activities in polar bear country.
Training in Polar Bear Awareness, Safety and Deterrence
The MMM Regulatory Program offers three types of training related to polar bear safety. All these courses provide information on polar bear biology and behavior, laws and policy, safety measures, and use of deterrents. Trainings are scheduled upon request and may be delivered in Anchorage, at facilities on the North Slope, or virtually depending on staff availability.
Polar Bear Safety and Awareness Training
This training is appropriate for any personnel working in polar bear country and typically takes two hours to complete.
Bear Guard Training
This training covers use of deterrents in more detail, including deterrents that are authorized for use under intentional harassment LOAs (e.g. pyrotechnics, other projectiles, and active vehicle approaches). Only personnel that have received this training from the Service or a Service-approved trainer are authorized to use these deterrents to haze polar bears under LOAs. Bear Guard Training certifications must be renewed every two years, but annual recertification is recommended. This training typically takes 4 hours.
This course certifies individuals to provide Polar Bear Safety and Awareness or Bear Guard training to other personnel. Train-the-trainer certifications need to be renewed every three years. This training typically takes eight hours.
For more information on polar bear safety training and active deterrence certification, please contact us at R7mmmregulatory@fws.gov.