Polar Bear Active Deterrence Authorization and Training

Polar bears may be encountered during work-related activities in northern Alaska, and a key mission of Marine Mammals Management is preventing human-polar 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 vehicle or boat
  • using lights, voices, or fences 
  • positioning vehicles or boats to block the path of an approaching polar bear
  • building any type of safety exclusion structure structure
    Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

    Learn more about structure

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 using more aggressive tools requires knowledge and skills to ensure polar bears are not injured or killed as a result of deterrence efforts. 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 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 pyrotechnic rounds (such as cracker shells), pepper balls, bean bags, or rubber bullets 
  • approaching polar bears with dogs 
  • approaching polar bears with a vehicle, vessel, or other conveyance to actively prompt animals to leave an area

Individuals that haze polar bears with these Active tools must be covered by a Letter of Authorization for Intentional Harassment (Intentional LOA) issued by the Service. See Letter of Authorization Requests for more information on obtaining an Intentional LOA. Note that Intentional 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” when only the passive methods listed above are used. We recommend having a designated bear guard—a person whose duty it is to watch for and respond to bears—when conducting activities in polar bear country.

Please note that the Service cannot provide bear guard or firearms certification. The trainings listed below are not a replacement for certifications necessary to meet requirements of Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental or insurance policies held by operators or organizations.

Polar Bear Awareness, Safety, and Deterrence Training

The MMM Regulatory Program offers training related to polar bear safety. All training provides information on polar bear biology and behavior, laws and policy, attractants management, encounter prevention, and use of appropriate deterrents. Trainings may be delivered in Anchorage, at facilities on the North Slope, or virtually depending on staff availability.  

Polar Bear Safety and Awareness training is appropriate for any personnel working in polar bear country and typically takes four hours to complete. Use of passive deterrence methods is covered in these sessions.

Active Polar Bear Deterrence training is available only to groups operating under an Intentional LOA. Personnel performing active deterrence of polar bears are required to take this training every two years. This training typically takes six to eight hours to complete and must be delivered by Service personnel or a Service-designated trainer.

For more information on polar bear safety training and active deterrence instruction, please contact us at R7mmmregulatory@fws.gov.