The Alaska Nanuuq Commission (ANC) is the federal co-management body for the conservation and management of Alaska's polar bears. Along with our partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS ) we are working together to protect these animals and the Alaskan Native subsistence way of life by developement of a shared harvest management plan under an international agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation.
This effort is unprecedented as Alaska's Native hunters annual take of polar bears has never been limited. However, members of the ANC realize that the development and implementation of an annual limit of subsistence takes is an important part of the conservation strategies for the health and future of the Chukchi population.
Alaska has two polar bear populations : the Alaska-Chukotka (AC) population and the Southern Beaufort Sea (SBS). There are a total of 19 polar bear populations in the Arctic. Each faces unique challenges and opportunities.
One challenge that nearly all polar bears face is the loss of Arctic sea ice. As a result, the U.S. listed the species as ‘threatened’ in 2008.
‘Threatened’ doesn’t mean all polar bears will be affected by sea ice loss at the same time. Research and traditional ecological knowledge suggest that the AC population is currently doing well, while the SBS population has declined.
In 2000, the U.S. and Russia signed a treaty to protect the AC population. This is important because polar bears move freely between the two countries. What happens in Russia affects polar bears—and people—here in Alaska.
New research is helping us understand Alaska’s polar bears. New management measures for the AC population—including an annual taking limit for subsistence hunters—will be phased in over the next few years. Our goal is to both conserve the bears and preserve the Native Alaskan way of life.
Here in Alaska, Native subsistence hunters have a deep cultural respect for polar bears. This translates into natural forms of protection, for example not harvesting females with cubs. It also translates into self-regulation that goes hand-in-hand with modern wildlife management.
The road ahead will be difficult. But there are bright spots, and there is hope. The ANC, the 15 coastal communities we represent, along with the USFWS and other partners, are all working together—for polar bears and for you!
While the quota for the subsistence take is not yet in effect, we are working towards implementing a quota in 2014 after extensive and continued consultation with our management partners, our native counterparts in Russia, and those we represent in each of our villages has taken place.