Polar bear preservation in northeast Russia: Russia-US Polar Bear Commission meets in Sochi for 7th time

Polar bear preservation in northeast Russia: Russia-US Polar Bear Commission meets in Sochi for 7th time

16 November 2015

The Russia-US Polar Bear Commission met in Sochi for its seventh conference in late October. The commission was set up to implement a bilateral agreement on the conservation and management of the Alaska-Chukotka population of polar bears, signed in 2000 and ratified in 2009. A scientific research group formed by the commission prepares recommendations for the commission’s decisions. The group includes scientists studying polar bears from both countries and also representatives of indigenous ethnic groups living in the animals’ range. The research group meets annually ahead of the commission’s conferences to work out recommendations for the year.


The latest research group meeting took place on 20-21 October (for the sixth time since the bilateral agreement was ratified). The commission gathered on 22-23 October (the seventh meeting).


Comments by Dr Nikita Ovsyanikov, PhD in biology specialising in polar bears, an independent expert and an honoured polar researcher of Russia:


The key decision of the commission was to maintain the harvest limit on polar bears from both countries at 58 animals per year, with one-third of them being females.


The number 58 was decided on at a meeting in Anchorage in 2010 under pressure from Alaska’s indigenous people and has been reapproved every year since.


This recommendation received backing from the majority of the scientific research group (nine against one). Yet, the commission’s report did include the report, given to the research group and the commission, on monitoring the core part of the polar bear population on Wrangel Island in 2014-15, which was conducted during the critical summer/autumn season (when the sea ice melts on the continental shelf), and analyzing trends in the local polar bear population over the past 10 years. The analysis shows that the occurrence of these polar bears in their key reproductive habitats is steeply declining, particularly the occurrence of family groups (female bears with bear cubs) and bear cubs born within the year. The most alarming sign is that this negative trend is taking place against a conspicuous drop in the number of family groups and bear cubs born within the year in the autumn group that are staying in their home range.


To be fair to the majority of Chukotka people, those of them who live in coastal villages have noticed the sharp fall in the polar bear population, and most of them, including hunters, are reluctant to kill the animals. They do not need to hunt the bears for subsistence. The polar bear is not part of the Chukotka people’s “survival package” unlike deer, fish, seals, walruses or whales. Hunting for polar bears is lobbied by those who pursue their own commercial interests, which they present as “the exclusive rights of the indigenous population” and refer to the idea that Chukotka people were discriminated against in the Soviet Union.