The US and Russia have ratified a bilateral agreement for the long-term conservation of shared polar bear populations in Alaska, the US and Chukotka, Russia.
The treaty unifies US and Russian management programmes that affect this shared population of bears. Notably, the treaty calls for the active involvement of native people and their organizations in future management programmes. It will also enhance such long-term joint efforts as conservation of ecosystems and important habitats, harvest allocations based on sustainability, collection of biological information, and increased consultation and cooperation with state, local, and private interests.
"WWF is pleased that this treaty will finally go into effect and formalize the increasing cooperation between US and Russian management agencies, scientists, and native communities in an effort to conserve our shared population of polar bears," said Margaret Williams, director of the WWF Bering Sea-Kamchatka Ecoregion Programme.
“With the rapid decline of arctic sea ice, now more than ever, we need to work together to ensure that polar bears have a chance to survive difficult times ahead."
Polar bears typically occur at low densities over vast areas of the Arctic. Current estimates of the world's 19 separate populations range from 20,000 to 25,000 bears. Two populations of the bears occur in Alaska: the southern Beaufort Sea population (about 1,500 animals), shared with Canada; and the Alaska-Chukotka (Chukchi Sea) population (approximately 2,000 bears), which is shared with Russia.
"While we are very pleased the treaty is coming into effect and support its goals, we urge the US government to take more courageous and bold actions to address the factor now widely recognised as the source of global climate change and resulting warming in the polar bears' arctic habitat: CO2 emissions," Williams added.
The treaty fulfills the spirit and intent of the 1973 multilateral Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears among the United States, Russia, Norway, Denmark (for Greenland) and Canada by allowing a sustainable harvest by Alaska and Chukotka natives, but prohibiting the harvest of females with cubs or of cubs less than one year old. It also prohibits the use of aircraft and large motorized vehicles in the taking of polar bears and enhances the conservation of specific habitats such as feeding, congregating, and denning areas.
Margaret Williams, Director
WWF Bering Sea-Kamachatka Ecoregion Programme
Viktor Nikiforov, Director Regional Programmes
Miriam Geitz, Climate Change Officer
WWF International Arctic Programme