A 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. Natives in Alaska and Russia began laying the groundwork for this agreement starting in the 1980s. 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 1953. Alaskan 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. Representatives from the United States are Geoffrey Haskett, Regional Director of the FWS Alaska Region and Charlie Johnson, Executive Director of the Alaska Nanuuq Commission. Russian representatives include Amirkhan Amirkhanov, Deputy Director of the Department of State Policy and Regulations in the Field of Environment Protection and Ecological Safety within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Sergey Kavry, a representative of the Chukotka aboriginal people.
In September of 2009, the inaugural meeting of the US-Russia polar bear commission was held in Moscow, Russia. At their inaugural meeting the Commission appointed a scientific working group with a co-chair and 5 members from each country. The Commission tasked this scientific working group with a number of objectives, but specifically identified the top priority as identifying a sustainable harvest level for the Alaska-Chukotka population. In response to this initiative, the scientific working group held their first meeting March 1−5, 2010 in Anchorage, Alaska and provided the Commission with a peer-reviewed report of their recommendations regarding harvest and future research needs. This included a recommendation that total harvest from the two countries not exceed 45 polar bears per year.
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. Harvest will be split evenly between Native peoples of Alaska and Chukotka. The Alaskan share of the harvest is 29 polar bears per year, which is slightly lower than the average of 37 polar bears harvested each year between 2004 and 2008. Over the next year, the USFWS will work with the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and local communitiesto determine how best to implement the harvest.
In Alaska, this limit will not go into effect for another 1 or 2 years. Until that time, harvest will continue as currently managed.
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