[Federal Register Volume 72, Number 5 (Tuesday, January 9, 2007)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 1063-1099]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 06-9962]



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Part II





Department of the Interior





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Fish and Wildlife Service



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50 CFR Part 17



Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Petition 
Finding and Proposed Rule To List the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) as 
Threatened Throughout Its Range; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 72, No. 5 / Tuesday, January 9, 2007 / 
Proposed Rules

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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AV19


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Petition 
Finding and Proposed Rule To List the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) as 
Threatened Throughout Its Range

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule and notice of 12-month finding.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
12-month finding on a petition to list the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) 
as threatened with critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (Act). After review of all available scientific and 
commercial information, we find that listing the polar bear as a 
threatened species under the Act is warranted. Accordingly, we herein 
propose to list the polar bear as threatened throughout its range 
pursuant to the Act. This proposed rule, if made final, would extend 
the Act's protections to this species. Critical habitat for the polar 
bear is not determinable at this time. The Service seeks data and 
comments from the public on this proposed listing rule.

DATES: We will consider all comments on this proposed rule received by 
the close of business (5 p.m.) Alaska Local Time on April 9, 2007. 
Requests for a public hearing must be received by the Service on or 
before close of business (5 p.m.) Alaska Local Time on February 23, 
2007.

ADDRESSES: If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and 
materials concerning this proposed rule by any one of several methods:
    1. You may submit written comments to the Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management Office, 1011 East Tudor 
Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503.
    2. You may hand deliver written comments to the Marine Mammals 
Management Office at the above address.
    3. You may send comments by electronic mail (e-mail). You may send 
your comments by electronic mail (e-mail) directly to the Service at: 
[email protected] or to the Federal eRulemaking Portal at 
http://www.regulations.gov. See the Public Comments Solicited section 
below for file format for electronic filing and other information.
    The complete file for this finding and proposed rule is available 
for inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address. These documents are also available on the Service's 
Marine Mammal Web site located at: http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Schliebe, Marine Mammals 
Management Office (see ADDRESSES section) (telephone 907/786-3800). 
Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call 
the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339, 24 
hours a day, 7 days a week.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Public Comments Solicited

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or information from the public, other concerned governmental 
agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested 
party concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments 
concerning:
    (1) Information on taxonomy, distribution, habitat selection 
(especially denning habitat), food habits, population density and 
trends, habitat trends, and effects of management on polar bears;
    (2) Information on the effects of sea ice change on the 
distribution and abundance of polar bears and their principal prey over 
the short and long term;
    (3) Information on the effects of other potential listing factors, 
including oil and gas development, contaminants, ecotourism, hunting, 
poaching, on the distribution and abundance of polar bears and their 
principal prey over the short and long term;
    (4) Information on regulatory mechanisms and management programs 
for polar bear conservation, including mitigation measures related to 
oil and gas exploration and development, hunting conservation programs, 
anti-poaching programs, and any other private, tribal, or governmental 
conservation programs which benefit polar bears;
    (5) The specific physical and biological features to consider, and 
specific areas that may meet the definition of critical habitat and 
that should or should not be considered for a proposed critical habitat 
designation as provided by section 4 of the Act;
    (6) Information relevant to whether any populations of the species 
may qualify as distinct population segments; and
    (7) The data and studies refered to within this proposal.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this proposed rule by any one of several methods, as listed 
above in the ADDRESSES section. If you submit comments by e-mail, 
please submit them in ASCII file format and avoid the use of special 
characters and encryption. Please include ``Attn: Polar Bear Finding'' 
and your name and return address in your e-mail message. Please note 
that the e-mail address will be closed at the termination of the public 
comment period.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their names and/or home addresses, etc., but if you wish us to consider 
withholding this information, you must state this prominently at the 
beginning of your comments. In addition, you must present rationale for 
withholding this information. This rationale must demonstrate that 
disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy. 
Unsupported assertions will not meet this burden. In the absence of 
exceptional, documentable circumstances, this information will be 
released. We will always make submissions from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives of or officials of organizations or businesses, 
available for public inspection in their entirety. Comments and 
materials received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service Office at the address listed in ADDRESSES.

Background

    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. requires 
that, for any petition to add a species to, remove a species from, or 
reclassify a species on one of the Lists of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife and Plants, we first make a determination whether the petition 
presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating 
that the petitioned action may be warranted. To the maximum extent 
practicable, this determination is to be made within 90 days of receipt 
of the petition, and published promptly in the Federal Register.
    If the petition is found to present substantial information, 
section

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4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires us to commence a status review of the 
species, and section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires us to make a second 
finding, this one within 12 months of the date of receipt of the 
petition, on whether the petitioned action is: (a) Not warranted; (b) 
warranted; or (c) warranted but precluded (i.e., the immediate proposal 
of a regulation implementing the petitioned action is precluded by 
other pending proposals to determine whether any species is threatened 
or endangered, and expeditious progress is being made to add or remove 
qualified species from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
and Plants). This determination is likewise to be published promptly in 
the Federal Register.
    Species for which listing is warranted but precluded are considered 
to be ``candidates'' for listing. Section 4(b)(3)(C) of the Act 
requires that a petition for which the requested action is found to be 
warranted but precluded be treated as though resubmitted on the date of 
such finding, i.e., requiring a subsequent finding to be made within 12 
months. Each subsequent 12-month finding is also to be in the Federal 
Register. We typically publish these findings in our Candidate Notice 
of Review (CNOR). Our most recent CNOR was published on September 12, 
2006 (71 FR 53756).

Previous Federal Action

    On February 17, 2005, we received a petition from the Center for 
Biological Diversity, dated February 16, 2005, requesting that we list 
the polar bear as threatened throughout its range, and that critical 
habitat be designated concurrently with the listing. The petition was 
clearly identified as such, and contained the name, authorized 
signature, and address of the requesting party. Included in the 
petition was supporting information regarding the species' taxonomy and 
ecology, historical and current distribution, present status, and 
actual and potential causes of decline. We acknowledged the receipt of 
the petition in a letter dated July 1, 2005. In that letter, we also 
advised the petitioners that, due to funding constraints in fiscal year 
(FY) 2005, and the need to comply with court orders and settlement 
agreements, we would not be able to begin processing the petition at 
that time.
    In a letter dated July 5, 2005, the petitioner informed us that two 
additional parties were joining as petitioners: the Natural Resources 
Defense Council and Greenpeace, Inc. In the same letter, the 
petitioners informed us of two new scientific articles, Hansen et al. 
(2005) and Stroeve et al. (2005), that they wanted us to consider when 
conducting our evaluation of the petition to list the polar bear. In a 
letter we received on December 27, 2005, the petitioners submitted 
additional new information to be considered, along with the information 
in the initial petition, in making our 90-day finding.
    On December 15, 2005, the petitioners filed a complaint for 
declaratory and injunctive relief in the United States District Court 
for the Northern District of California, challenging our failure to 
issue a 90-day finding in response to the petition as required by 
section 4(b)(3) of the Act. On February 7, 2006, we made our 90-day 
finding that the petition presented substantial scientific information 
indicating that listing the polar bear may be warranted; the finding 
and our initiation of a status review was published in the Federal 
Register on February 9, 2006 (71 FR 6745). In a stipulated settlement 
agreement approved by the Court on July 5, 2006, we agreed to submit a 
12-month finding to the Federal Register by December 27, 2006. This 
notice constitutes our 12-month finding for the petition to list the 
polar bear as threatened, in fulfillment of the stipulated settlement 
agreement.

Status Assessment

    Pursuant to section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act, we conducted a status 
review of the polar bear. With this notice we announce the completion 
and availability of the Polar Bear Status Assessment (Status Assessment 
or Schliebe et al. (2006a)). The Status Assessment was compiled and 
edited by staff of the Service's Marine Mammals Management Office of 
Region 7 (Scott Schliebe; Thomas Evans; Kurt Johnson, Ph.D.; Michael 
Roy, Ph.D.; Susanne Miller; Charles Hamilton; Rosa Meehan, Ph.D.; and 
Sonja Jahrsdoerfer). Information contained in the original petition, as 
well as additional information provided by the petitioners, was 
considered during the development of the Status Assessment. In 
addition, all comments received from the public during the open public 
comment period were considered. To ensure that the Status Assessment 
would be complete and based on the best available scientific and 
commercial information, we solicited information from the public on the 
status of the polar bear in two separate public comment periods 
announced in the Federal Register (February 9, 2006; 71 FR 6745) and 
(May 17, 2006; 71 FR 28653). In addition, all available scientific and 
commercial information on polar bears and threats to polar bears was 
reviewed and considered during development of the the Status Assessment 
and proposed rule.
    In accordance with Service policies, peer review of the draft 
Status Assessment was sought from 12 independent experts in the fields 
of polar bear ecology, contaminants and physiology, climatic science 
and physics, and traditional ecological knowledge. Comments were 
received from 10 peer reviewers, and those comments were addressed in 
revisions to the draft Status Assessment. The Status Assessment, a list 
of peer reviewers, and comments received from peer reviewers are 
available upon request from the Marine Mammals Management Office as 
well as on the Service's Marine Mammal Web site located at: http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm. Literature cited in 
the Status Assessment serves as the basis for the 12-month finding and 
proposed rule.

Species Biology

    Information presented in this section is summarized from the Status 
Assessment (Schliebe et al. 2006a). For more detailed information on 
the biology of the polar bear, please consult the Status Assessment.

Taxonomy and Evolution

    Throughout the Arctic, polar bears are known by a variety of common 
names, including nanook, nanuq, ice bear, sea bear, isbj[oslash]rn, 
white bears, and eisb[auml]r. Phipps (1774) first proposed and 
described polar bear as a species distinct from other bears and 
provided a scientific name Ursus maritimus. A number of alternative 
names followed, but Harington (1966), Manning (1971, p. 9), and Wilson 
(1976) (all three references cited in Amstrup 2003, p. 587) 
subsequently promoted the name Ursus maritimus that has been used 
since. The polar bear is usually considered a marine mammal since its 
primary habitat is the sea ice (Amstrup 2003, p. 587), and it is 
evolutionarily adapted to life on sea ice (see further discussion under 
General Description section). The polar bear was included on the list 
of species covered under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 
as amended (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) (MMPA).
    Genetic research has confirmed that polar bears evolved from 
grizzly (brown) bears (Ursus arctos) 250 to 300 thousand years ago 
(Cronin et al. 1991, p. 2990; Talbot and Shields 1996a, p. 574). Only 
in portions of northern Canada and northern Alaska do the ranges of 
polar bears and grizzly bears overlap. Cross-breeding of grizzly bears 
and polar bears in captivity has produced

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reproductively viable offspring (Gray 1972; Stirling 1988, p. 23). The 
first documented case of cross-breeding in the wild was reported in the 
spring of 2006.

General Description

    Polar bears are the largest of the living bear species (DeMaster 
and Stirling 1981 p. 1; Stirling and Derocher 1990 p. 190). They are 
characterized by large body size, a stocky form, and fur color that 
varies from white to yellow. They are sexually dimorphic; females weigh 
181 to 317 kilograms (kg) (400 to 700 pounds (lbs)) and males up to 654 
kg (1,440 lbs). Polar bears have a longer neck and a proportionally 
smaller head than other members of the bear family (Ursidae), and are 
missing the distinct shoulder hump common to grizzly bears. The nose, 
lips, and skin of polar bears are black (Demaster and Stirling 1981 p. 
1; Amstrup 2003 p. 588).
    Polar bears are evolutionarily adapted to life on sea ice. 
Adaptations to this life include: (1) White pelage with water-repellent 
guard hairs and dense underfur; (2) a short furred snout; (3) small 
ears for reduced surface area; (4) teeth specialized for a carnivorous 
rather than an omnivorous diet; and (5) feet with tiny papillae and 
``suction cups'' on the underside, for increased traction on ice 
(Stirling 1988, p. 24). Additional adaptations include large, paddle-
like feet (Stirling 1988, p. 24), and claws that are shorter and more 
strongly curved than those of grizzly bears, and larger and heavier 
than those of black bears (Ursus americanus) (Amstrup 2003, p. 589).

Distribution and Movements

    Polar bears evolved to utilize the Arctic sea ice niche and are 
distributed throughout most ice-covered seas of the Northern 
Hemisphere. They are generally limited to areas where the sea is ice-
covered for much of the year; however, polar bears are not evenly 
distributed throughout their range. They are most abundant near the 
shore in shallow-water areas, and in other areas where currents and 
ocean upwelling increase marine productivity and serve to keep the ice 
cover from becoming too solidified in winter (Stirling and Smith 1975, 
p. 132; Stirling et al. 1981, p. 49; Amstrup and DeMaster 1988, p. 44; 
Stirling 1990, pp. 226-227; Stirling and [Oslash]ritsland 1995, p. 
2607; Amstrup et al. 2000b, p. 960). Over most of their range, polar 
bears remain on the sea ice year-round or spend only short periods on 
land. They occur throughout the East Siberian, Laptev, and Kara Seas of 
Russia; Fram Strait, Greenland Sea, and Barents Sea of northern Europe 
(Norway and Greenland (Denmark)); Baffin Bay, which separates Canada 
and Greenland, through most of the Canadian Arctic archipelago and the 
Canadian Beaufort Sea; and in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas located 
west and north of Alaska.
    The distribution of polar bears in most areas varies seasonally 
with the seasonal extent of sea ice cover and availability of prey. In 
Alaska in the winter, sea ice may extend 400 kilometers (km) (248 miles 
(mi)) south of the Bering Strait, and polar bears will extend their 
range to the southernmost proximity of the ice (Ray 1971, cited in 
Amstrup 2003, p. 587). Sea ice disappears from the Bering Sea and is 
greatly reduced in the Chukchi Sea in the summer, and polar bears 
occupying these areas move as much as 1,000 km (621 mi) to stay with 
the pack ice (Garner et al. 1990, p. 222; Garner at al. 1994b, pp. 407-
408). Throughout the polar basin during the summer, polar bears 
generally concentrate along the edge of or into the adjacent persistent 
pack ice. Significant northerly and southerly movements of polar bears 
appear to depend on seasonal melting and refreezing of ice (Amstrup et 
al. 2000, p. 142). In other areas, for example, when the sea ice melts 
in Hudson Bay, James Bay, Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, portions of the 
Canadian High Arctic, and some portions of the Barents Sea, polar bears 
remain on land for up to several months while they wait for winter and 
new ice to form (Jonkel et al. 1976; Schweinsburg 1979; Prevett and 
Kolenosky 1982; Schweinsburg and Lee 1982; Ferguson et al. 1997; Lunn 
et al. 1997 all cited in Amstrup 2003, p. 587; Mauritzen et al. 2001, 
p. 1710).
    The distribution patterns of some polar bear populations during the 
open water and early fall seasons have changed in recent years. In the 
Beaufort Sea, for example, greater numbers of polar bears are being 
found on shore during this period than recorded at any previous time 
(Schliebe et al. 2006b, p. 559). In Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, western 
Hudson Bay and other areas of Canada, Inuit hunters are reporting an 
increase in the numbers of bears present on land during summer and fall 
(Dowsley and Taylor 2005, p. 2; Dowsley 2005, p. 2). The exact reasons 
for changes may involve a number of factors, including changes in sea 
ice (Stirling and Parkinson 2006, p. 272).
    Data from telemetry studies of adult female polar bears show that 
they do not wander aimlessly on the ice, nor are they carried passively 
with the ocean currents as previously thought (Pedersen 1945 cited in 
Amstrup 2003, p. 587). Results show strong fidelity to activity areas 
that are used over multiple years. Some polar bear populations are 
closely associated with pack ice. In the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea areas 
of Alaska and northwestern Canada, less than 10 percent of the polar 
bear locations obtained were on land (Amstrup 2000, p. 137; Amstrup, 
USGS, unpublished data); the majority of the land locations were 
locations with bears occupying maternal dens during the winter. A 
similar pattern was found in East Greenland (Wiig et al. 2003, p. 511). 
In the absence of ice during the summer season, some populations of 
polar bears in eastern Canada, Hudson Bay, and the Barents Sea are 
remaining on land for protracted periods of time until ice again forms 
and provides a platform for them to move to sea ice.

Food Habits

    Polar bears are carnivorous and an upper level predator of the 
Arctic marine ecosystem. Polar bears prey heavily throughout their 
range on ringed seals (Phoca hispida) and, to a lesser extent, bearded 
seals (Erignathus barbatus) and in some locales, other seal species. On 
average, an adult polar bear needs approximately 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of seal 
fat per day to survive (Best 1985, p. 1035). Sufficient nutrition is 
critical and may be obtained and stored as fat when prey is abundant.
    Although seals are their primary prey, polar bears also have been 
known to kill much larger animals such as walruses (Odobenus rosmarus), 
narwhal (Monodon monoceros), and belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) 
(Kiliaan et al. 1978; Smith 1980, p. 2206; Smith 1985; Lowry et al. 
1987, p. 141; Calvert and Stirling 1990, p. 352; Smith and Sjare 1990, 
p. 99). In some areas and under some conditions, prey and carrion other 
than seals may be quite important to polar bear sustenance. Stirling 
and [Oslash]ritsland (1995, p. 2609) suggested that in areas where 
ringed seal populations were reduced, other prey species were being 
substituted. Like other ursids, polar bears will eat human garbage 
(Lunn and Stirling 1985, p. 2295), and when confined to land for long 
periods they will consume coastal marine and terrestrial plants and 
other terrestrial foods (Russell 1975, p. 122; Derocher et al. 1993, p. 
252), but the significance of other terrestrial foods to polar bears 
may be limited (Lunn and Stirling 1985, p. 2296; Ramsay and Hobson 
1991, p. 600; Derocher et al. 2004, p. 169).

Reproduction

    Polar bears are characterized by a late age at sexual maturity, 
small litter sizes, and extended parental investment in raising young, 
factors that combine to contribute to a very low reproductive

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rate. Reproduction in the female polar bear is similar to that in other 
ursids (bears).
    Females generally mature and breed for the first time at 4 or 5 
years and give birth at 5 or 6 years of age. Litters of two cubs are 
most common, but litters of three cubs are seen sporadically across the 
Arctic. When foraging conditions are difficult, polar bears may 
``defer'' reproduction in favor of survival (Derocher et al. 1992, p. 
564).
    Polar bears enter a prolonged estrus between March and June, when 
breeding occurs. Ovulation is thought to be induced by mating (Wimsatt 
1963; Ramsay and Dunbrack 1986; Derocher and Stirling 1992; all cited 
in Amstrup 2003, p. 599), and implantation is delayed until autumn. The 
total gestation period is 195 to 265 days (Uspenski 1977 cited in 
Amstrup 2003, p. 599), although active development of the fetus is 
suspended during most of this period. The timing of implantation, and 
therefore the timing of birth, is likely dependent on body condition of 
the female, which depends on a variety of environmental factors.
    Newborn polar bears are helpless, have hair, but are blind and 
weigh only 0.6 kg (1.3 lb) (Blix and Lentfer 1979, p. 68). Cubs grow 
rapidly, and may weigh 10 to 12 kg (22 to 26 lbs) by the time they 
emerge from the den in the spring. Young bears will stay with their 
mothers until weaning, which occurs most commonly in early spring when 
the cubs are 2.3 years of age. Female polar bears are available to 
breed again after their cubs are weaned, so the reproductive interval 
for polar bears is 3 years.
    Polar bears are long-lived mammals not generally susceptable to 
disease, parasites, or injury. The oldest known female in the wild was 
32 years of age and the oldest known male was 28, though few polar 
bears in the wild live to be older than 20 (Stirling 1988, p. 139; 
Stirling 1990, p. 225). Due to extremely low reproductive rates, polar 
bears require a high rate of survival to maintain population levels. 
Survival rates increase up to a certain age, with cubs-of-the-year 
having the lowest rates and prime age adults (between 5 and 20 years of 
age) having survival rates that can exceed 90 percent.

Polar Bear--Sea Ice Habitat Relationships

    Polar bears are distributed throughout the ice-covered waters of 
the circumpolar Arctic (Stirling 1988, p. 61), and are reliant on the 
sea ice as their primary habitat (Amstrup 2003, p. 587). Polar bears 
depend on sea ice for a number of purposes, including as a platform 
from which to hunt and feed upon seals; as habitat on which to seek 
mates and breed; as a platform to move to terrestrial maternity denning 
areas, and sometimes for maternity denning; and as a substrate on which 
to make long-distance movements (Stirling and Derocher 1993, p. 241). 
Mauritzen et al. (2003, p. 123) indicated that habitat use by polar 
bears during certain seasons may involve a trade-off between selecting 
habitats with abundant prey availability versus the use of safer 
retreat habitats with less prey. Their findings indicate that polar 
bear distribution may not be solely a reflection of prey availability, 
but other factors such as energetic costs or risk may be involved.
    Stirling et al. (1993, p. 15) defined seven types of sea ice 
habitat and classified polar bear use of these ice types based on the 
presence of bears or tracks in order to determine habitat preferences. 
The seven types of sea ice were: stable fast ice with drifts; stable 
fast ice without drifts; floe edge ice; moving ice; continuous stable 
pressure ridges; coastal low level pressure ridges; and fiords and 
bays. Polar bears were not evenly distributed over these sea ice 
habitats, but concentrated on the floe ice edge, on stable fast ice 
with drifts, and on areas of moving ice (Stirling 1990 p. 226; Stirling 
et al. 1993, p. 18). In another assessment, categories of ice types 
included: pack ice; shore-fast ice; transition zone ice; and polynyas 
(i.e., open water areas within the ice); and leads (USFWS 1995, p. 9). 
Pack ice, which consists of annual and multi-year ice in constant 
motion due to winds and currents, is the primary summer habitat for 
Alaskan polar bears. Shore-fast ice is used for feeding on seal pups, 
movements, and occasionally for maternity denning. Open water at leads 
and polynyas attracts seals and other marine mammals and provides 
preferred hunting habitats during winter and spring.
    Polar bears must move throughout the year to adjust to the changing 
distribution of sea ice and seals (Stirling 1988, p. 63; USFWS 1995, p. 
4). In some areas, such as Hudson Bay and James Bay, polar bears remain 
on land when the sea ice retreats in the spring and they fast for 
several months (up to 8 months for pregnant females) before fall 
freeze-up (Stirling 1988, p. 63; Derocher et al. 2004, p. 163). Some 
populations unconstrained by land masses, such as those in the Barents, 
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, spend each summer on the multiyear ice of 
the polar basin (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 163). In intermediate areas 
such as the Canadian Arctic, Svalbard, and Franz Josef Land 
archipelagos, bears stay with the ice most of the time, but in some 
years they may spend up to a few months on land (Mauritizen et al. 
2001, p. 1710). Most populations use terrestrial habitat partially or 
exclusively for maternity denning; therefore, females must adjust their 
movements in order to access land at the appropriate time (Stirling 
1988, p. 64; Derocher et al. 2004, p. 166).
    Sea ice changes between years in response to environmental factors 
may have consequences to the distribution and productivity of polar 
bears as well as their prey. In the southern Beaufort Sea, anomalous 
heavy ice conditions in the mid-1970s and mid-1980s (thought to be 
roughly in phase with a similar variation in runoff from the MacKenzie 
River) caused significant declines in productivity of ringed seals 
(Stirling 2002, p. 68). Each event lasted approximately three years and 
caused similar declines in the natality of polar bears and survival of 
subadults, after which reproductive success and survival of both 
species increased again.

Maternal Denning Habitat

    Throughout the species' range, most pregnant female polar bears 
excavate dens in snow located on land in the fall-early winter period 
(Harington 1968, p. 6; Lentfer and Hensel 1980, p. 102; Ramsay and 
Stirling 1990, p. 233; Amstrup and Gardner 1994, p. 5). The only known 
exceptions are in Western and Southern Hudson Bay, where polar bears 
first excavate earthen dens and later reposition into adjacent snow 
drifts (Jonkel et al 1972, p. 146; Ramsey and Stirling 1990, p. 233), 
and in the southern Beaufort Sea, where a portion of the population 
dens in snow caves located on pack and shorefast ice. Successful 
denning by polar bears requires accumulation of sufficient snow for den 
construction and maintenance. Adequate and timely snowfall combined 
with winds that cause snow accumulation leeward of topographic features 
create denning habitat (Harington 1968, p.12).
    A great amount of polar bear denning occurs in core areas 
(Harington 1968, pp. 7-8) which show high use over time. In some 
portions of the species' range, polar bears den in a more diffuse 
pattern, with dens scattered over larger areas at lower density 
(Lentfer and Hensel 1980, p. 102; Stirling and Andriashek 1992, p. 363; 
Amstrup 1993, p. 247; Amstrup and Gardner 1994, p. 5; Messier et al. 
1994, p. 425; Born 1995, p. 81; Ferguson et al. 2000a, p. 1125; Durner 
et al. 2001, p. 117; Durner et al. 2003, p. 57).
    Habitat characteristics of denning areas vary substantially from 
the rugged

[[Page 1068]]

mountains and fjordlands of the Svalbard archipelago and the large 
islands north of the Russian coast (L[oslash]n[oslash] 1970, p. 77; 
Uspenski and Kistchinski 1972, p. 182; Larsen 1985, pp. 321-322) to the 
relatively flat topography of areas such as the west coast of Hudson 
Bay (Ramsay and Andriashek 1986, p. 9; Ramsay and Stirling 1990, p. 
233) and north slope of Alaska (Amstrup 1993, p. 247; Amstrup and 
Gardner 1994, p. 7; Durner et al. 2001, p. 119; Durner et al. 2003, p. 
61), to offshore pack ice-pressure ridge habitat. The key 
characteristic of all denning habitat is topographic features that 
catch snow in the autumn and early winter (Durner et al. 2003, p. 61). 
Across the range, most polar bear dens occur relatively near the coast. 
The main exception to coastal denning occurs in the western Hudson Bay 
area, where bears den further inland in traditional denning areas 
(Kolenosky and Prevett 1983, pp. 243-244; Stirling and Ramsay 1986, p. 
349).
    Polar bears are largely food deprived while on land in the ice-free 
period; during this time they survive on stored fat reserves. Pregnant 
females that spend the late summer on land prior to denning may not 
feed for 8 months (Watts and Stirling 1988, p. 627). This may be the 
longest period of food deprivation of any mammal, and it occurs at a 
time when the female gives birth to and then nourishes new cubs.

Current Population Status and Trend

    The total number of polar bears worldwide is estimated to be 
20,000-25,000. Polar bears are not evenly distributed throughout the 
Arctic, nor do they comprise a single nomadic cosmopolitan population, 
but rather occur in 19 relatively discrete populations (Figure 1). The 
boundaries of these populations are based on behavioral and ecological 
factors and were developed from decades of intensive scientific studies 
as well as traditional knowledge (Lunn et al. 2002, p. 41). Although 
there is overlap in areas occupied by members of the populations, with 
the exception of the Arctic Basin population, these boundaries are 
sufficiently discrete to manage the populations independently. 
Correspondence between genetic data and movement data reinforces 
current population designations (Paetkau et al. 1999, p. 1571; Amstrup 
2003, p. 590).
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[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP09JA07.000

    Population size estimates and qualitative categories of the current 
trend and status data for each polar bear population are discussed 
below. This discussion was derived from information presented at the 
World Conservation Union--International Union for Conservation of 
Nature and Natural Resources, Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) 
Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) meeting held in Seattle, Washington, 
in June 2005, and updated with results that became available as of 
October 2006 (PBSG 2006). The information on each

[[Page 1070]]

population is based on the available status reports and revisions given 
by each nation. Categories of status include an assessment of whether 
populations are not reduced, reduced, or severely reduced from historic 
levels of abundance, or if insufficient data are available to estimate 
status. Categories of trend include an assessment of whether the 
population is currently increasing, stable, or declining, or if 
insufficient data are available to estimate trend. The current status 
and trend assessments do not consider the various factors that have 
been determined to threaten the species within the foreseeable future, 
as discussed later in this document in the five-factor analysis 
sections.
    The East Greenland population number is unknown since no population 
surveys have been conducted in the past. The status and trend have not 
been determined due to the absence of abundance data. The Barents Sea 
population was estimated to comprise 3,000 animals based on the only 
population survey conducted in this vast area during 2004. Because only 
one abundance estimate is available, the status and trend cannot yet be 
determined. The Kara Sea population number is unknown because 
population surveys have not been conducted; thus status and trend of 
this population cannot yet be determined. The Laptev Sea population is 
estimated to comprise 800 to 1,200 animals, based on an extrapolation 
of historical aerial den survey data. Status and trend cannot yet be 
determined for this population. The Chukchi Sea population is estimated 
to comprise 2,000 animals based on extrapolation of aerial den surveys. 
Status and trend cannot yet be determined for this population. The 
Southern Beaufort Sea population is comprised of 1,500 animals based on 
conclusion of a recent population inventory. The predicted trend is 
declining and the status is designated as reduced. The Northern 
Beaufort Sea population is comprised of 1,200 animals. The trend is 
designated as stable and status is determined to be not reduced, 
although a new abundance estimate will be developed in the near future. 
The Viscount-Melville population is estimated to comprise 215 animals. 
The trend is increasing although the status is designated as severely 
reduced from prior excessive harvest. The Norwegian Bay population 
number is 190 animals and the trend is noted as declining while the 
status is listed as not reduced. The Lancaster Sound population is 
estimated to be 2,541 animals and the trend is stable and status is not 
reduced. The M'Clintock Channel population is estimated at 284 animals 
and the trend is increasing although the status is severely reduced 
from excessive harvest. The Gulf of Boothia population abundance 
estimate is 1,523 animals and the trend is stable and status is 
designated as not reduced. The Foxe Basin population comprises 2,197 
animals and the population trend is stable and the status is not 
reduced. The Western Hudson Bay population estimate is 935 animals and 
the trend is declining and the status is reduced. The Southern Hudson 
Bay population estimate is 1,000 animals and the trend is stable and 
status is not reduced. The Kane Basin population is comprised of 164 
animals and its trend is declining and status is reduced. The Baffin 
Bay population is estimated to be 2,074 animals and the trend is 
declining and status is reduced. The Davis Strait population is 
estimated at 1,650 animals based on traditional ecological knowledge 
(TEK) and data are unavailable to assess trends or status. The Arctic 
Basin population estimate, trend, and status are unknown.
    For populations with long-term data we can establish trends, but 
cannot do so for populations with short-term or lack of data. Of the 
populations for which data are available to assess status and trend, 
two are noted to be increasing (Viscount Melville and M'Clintock 
Channel). Both of these populations were severely reduced in the past 
and are recovering under conservative harvest limits. The two 
populations with the most extensive time series of data, Western Hudson 
Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea, are both declining. However, based on 
environmental factors and observed patterns of population trends for 
some populations it is likely that most populations will exhibit 
declines in the future.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Polar Bear

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and implementing regulations 
at 50 CFR part 424, set forth procedures for adding species to the 
Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species. Under section 4(a) 
of the Act, we may list a species on the basis of any of five factors, 
as follows: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. In making this finding, information regarding the 
status and trends of the polar bear is considered in relation to the 
five factors provided in section 4(a)(1) of the Act.
    In the context of the Act, the term ``threatened species'' means 
any species or subspecies or, for vertebrates, Distinct Population 
Segment (DPS) that is likely to become an endangered species within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. The term ``endangered species'' means any species that is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. The Act does not define the term ``foreseeable future.'' The 
PBSG, when they reassessed the status of polar bears globally in June 
2005, used the criteria described in the IUCN/SSC Red List process 
(IUCN 2004) to determine which Red List category the polar bear should 
be assigned. The criteria, used for all species that IUCN assesses in 
the Red List process, use observed, estimated, inferred or suspected 
population size reductions of a certain percentage over the last 10 
years or three generations, whichever is the longer to categorize 
species. A generation, as defined by IUCN, is calculated as the age of 
sexual maturity (5 years) plus 50 percent of the length of the lifetime 
reproductive period (20 years). Based on these calculations, the 
projected length of 1 generation for a polar bear was calculated at 15 
years, and the projected period for 3 generations was calculated as 45 
years.
    For another species evaluated for listing as threatened, the 
Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri), the status 
assessment report (May et al. 2003 p. 10) considered the ``foreseeable 
future'' to be 2-3 decades (4 to 10 generations), depending on the 
productivity of the environment. For the greater sage grouse 
(Centrocercus urophasianus) the status reviewers agreed that given all 
of the uncertainties, a reasonable timeframe for ``foreseeable future'' 
for the threatened definition was approximately 30 to 100 years 
[approximately 10 greater sage-grouse generations or 2 sagebrush 
habitat regeneration cycles (70 FR 2244)].
    Given the IUCN criteria, the life-history and population dynamics 
of polar bears, documented changes to date in both multi-year and 
annual sea ice, and the direction of projected rates of change of sea 
ice in future decades, we consider the three generation timespan used 
in the IUCN Red List criteria to be a reasonable projection of 
foreseeable future and provides a time frame for analysis of whether 
polar bears are likely to become endangered. Therefore,

[[Page 1071]]

45 years is the ``foreseeable future'' for the polar bear. This time 
frame is long enough to take into account multi-generational population 
dynamics and the capacity for ecological adaptation (Schliebe et al. 
2006a).
    We considered all relevant, available information under each of the 
listing factors in the context of present-day polar bear distribution. 
Our evaluation of the five factors with respect to polar bear 
populations is presented below. While the polar bear can be delineated 
into 19 populations, and population-specific interaction of various 
listing factors may affect these populations at different levels or 
rates, in this 12-month finding and proposed rule we evaluated the 
status of the species throughout its entire range because we find that 
the entire species meets the definition of a threatened species under 
the Act. Accordingly, we have not considered the petitioners' 
alternative of assessing whether listing of particular distinct 
population segments is warranted.

A. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
the Species' Habitat or Range

    Polar bears are believed to be completely dependent upon Arctic sea 
ice for survival (Moore and Huntington, in press; Laidre et al. in 
prep.). They need sea ice as a platform for hunting, for seasonal 
movements, for travel to terrestrial denning areas, for resting, and 
for mating. Some polar bears use terrestrial habitats seasonally, such 
as pregnant females for denning and some bears, all sex and age 
classes, for resting during open water periods. While open water may 
not be an essential habitat for polar bears because life functions such 
as feeding, reproduction or resting do not occur in open water, open 
water is a fundamental part of the marine system that supports seal 
species, the principal prey of polar bears, and seasonally returns to 
ice in the form needed by the bears. Further, the open water interface 
with sea ice is an important habitat in that it is used to a great 
extent by polar bears. The extent of open water is important because 
vast areas of open water may limit a bear's ability to access sea ice 
or land. Snow cover is also an important component of polar bear 
habitat in that it provides insulation and cover for young polar bears 
and ringed seals in snow dens or lairs.
Overview of Arctic Sea Ice Change
    Initial syntheses of climate models and environmental change data 
have identified potentially significant changes to the landscapes and 
biota in Arctic regions as a consequence of climate change (ACIA 2005, 
p. 1017; IPCC 2001a, p. 920). Climate trends are not occurring evenly 
or in a linear fashion throughout the world; Arctic regions are being 
disproportionately affected by higher levels of warming (Overpeck 2006, 
p. 1749). Observations of Arctic changes, including diminishing sea 
ice, shrinking glaciers, thawing permafrost, and Arctic greening, 
validate earlier findings (Morison et al. 2000, p. 360; Sturm et al. 
2003, pp. 63-65; Comiso and Parkinson 2004, pp. 38-43; Parkinson in 
press).
    Additional studies indicate that previous projections regarding the 
rate and extent of climate change underestimated the temperature trend, 
reductions to annual sea ice during the summer and winter periods, 
reductions to multi-year pack ice, and reductions in thickness 
(Rothrock et al. 2003, p. 3471; Stroeve et al. 2005, p. 2). Overpeck et 
al. (2005, p. 309) indicated that the Arctic is moving toward a new 
``super interglacial'' state that falls outside of natural glacial-
interglacial periods that have characterized the past 800,000 years. 
These changes appear to be driven largely by the albedo effect (see 
explanation in following paragraph), and there are few, if any, 
processes that are capable of altering this trajectory. There is no 
paleoclimatic evidence for a seasonally ice-free Arctic during the past 
800,000 years (Overpeck et al. 2005, p. 309).
    The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC is part of the 
University of Colorado Cooperative Institute for Research in 
Environmental Sciences, and is affiliated with the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration National Geophysical Data Center through a 
cooperative agreement) reported that the amount of sea ice in 2006 was 
the second lowest on record (since satellites began recording sea ice 
extent measurements via passive microwave imagery in 1978), and the 
pace of melting was accelerating. The latest sea ice measurements are 
thought to indicate that ice melt is accelerating due to a positive 
feedback loop. The albedo effect involves reduction of the extent of 
lighter-colored sea ice or snow, which reflects solar energy back into 
the atmosphere, and a corresponding increase in the extent of darker-
colored water or land that absorbs more of the sun's energy. This 
greater absorption of energy causes faster melting, which in turn 
causes more warming, and thus creates a self-reinforcing cycle that 
becomes amplified and accelerates with time. Lindsay and Zhang (2005, 
p. 4892) suggest that feedback mechanisms caused a tipping point in 
Arctic sea ice thinning in the late 1980s, sustaining a continual 
decline in sea ice cover that cannot easily be reversed. Results of a 
new study by a team of scientists from the National Center for 
Atmospheric Research and two universities, using projections from a 
state-of-the-art community climate system model, suggest that abrupt 
reductions in the extent of summer ice are likely to occur over the 
next few decades, and that near ice-free September conditions may be 
reached as early as 2040 (Holland et al, 2006).
Observed and Projected Changes in Arctic Sea Ice
    Sea ice is the defining characteristic of the marine Arctic and has 
a strong seasonal cycle (ACIA 2005, p. 30). It is typically at its 
maximum extent in March and minimum extent in September (Parkinson et 
al. 1999, p. 20, 840). There is considerable inter-annual variability 
both in the maximum and minimum extent of sea ice. In addition, there 
are decadal and inter-decadal fluctuations to sea ice extent due to 
changes in atmospheric pressure patterns and their associated winds, 
continental discharge, and influx of Atlantic and Pacific waters 
(Gloersen 1995, p. 505; Mysak and Manak 1989, p. 402; Kwok 2000, p. 
776; Parkinson 2000b, p. 10; Polyakov et al. 2003, p. 2080; Rigor et 
al. 2002, p. 2660; Zakharov 1994, p. 42).
    Observations have shown a decline in late summer Arctic sea ice 
extent of 7.7 percent per decade and in the perennial sea ice area of 
up to 9.8 percent per decade since 1978 (Stroeve et al. 2005, p.1; 
Comiso 2006, p. 75). A lesser decline of 2.7 percent per decade has 
been observed in yearly averaged sea ice extents (Parkinson and 
Cavalieri 2002, p. 441). The rate of decrease appears to be 
accelerating, with record low minimum extents in the sea ice cover 
recorded during 2002 through 2005 (Stroeve et al. in press; Comiso 
2006, p. 75). Average air temperatures across most of the Arctic Ocean 
from January to August 2006 were about 2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit 
([deg]F) warmer than the long-term average across the region during the 
preceding 50 years, indicating that ice melt is accelerating due to a 
positive feedback loop that enhances warming through the albedo effect. 
Observations have likewise shown a thinning of the Arctic sea ice of 32 
percent or more from the 1960s and 1970s to the 1990s in some local 
areas (Rothrock et al. 1999, p. 3471; Yu et al. 2004, p. 11). The 
length of the melt period affects sea ice cover and ice thickness 
(Hakkinen and Mellor 1990; Laxon et al. 2003, cited in Comiso 2005,

[[Page 1072]]

p. 50). Earlier melt onset and lengthening of the melt season result in 
decreased total ice cover at summer's end (Stroeve et al. 2005, p. 3). 
For 2002 through 2005, the NSIDC reported a trend of earlier onset of 
melt season in all four years; in 2005 the melt season arrived the 
earliest, occurring approximately 17 days before the mean melt onset 
date (NSIDC 2005, p. 6). The result of longer melt season is that the 
ice season is decreasing by as much as 8 days per year in the eastern 
Barents Sea, and by lesser amounts throughout much of the rest of the 
Arctic (Parkinson 2000a, p. 351). Comiso (2003, p. 3506) calculated an 
increase in the sea ice melt season of 10 to 17 days per decade. 
Subsequently, Comiso (2005, p. 50) included additional data from recent 
years and ice-free periods and determined that the length of the melt 
season is increasing at a rate of approximately 13.1 days per decade. 
Comiso (2005, p. 50) stated that the increasing melt periods were 
likely reasons for the current rapid decline of the perennial ice 
cover. Belchansky et al. (2004, p. 1) found that changes in January 
multiyear ice volume were significantly correlated with duration of the 
intervening melt season.
Projected Changes in Sea Ice Cover
    A number of climate models have been developed that project future 
conditions in the Arctic, as well as globally (ACIA 2005, p. 99; IPCC 
2001b, p. 471). All models predict continued Arctic warming and 
continued decreases in the Arctic sea ice cover in the 21st century 
(Johannessen 2004, p. 328) due to increasing global temperatures, 
although the level of increase varies between models. Comiso (2005, p. 
43) found that for each 1[deg]Centigrade (C) (1.6 [deg]F) increase in 
surface temperature (global average) there is a corresponding decrease 
in perennial sea ice cover of about 1.48 million km\2\ (.57 million 
mi\2\). Further, due to increased warming in the Arctic region, 
accepted models project almost no sea ice cover during summer in the 
Arctic Ocean by the end of the 21st century (Johannessen et al. 2004, 
p. 335). More recently, the NSIDC cautioned that the Arctic will be 
ice-free by 2060 if current warming trends continue (Serreze 2006, p. 
2).
    The winter maximum sea ice extent in 2005 and 2006 were both about 
6 percent lower than average values, indicating significant decline in 
the winter sea ice cover. In both cases, the observed surface 
temperatures were also significantly warmer and the onset of freeze-up 
was later than normal. In both years, onset of melt also happened early 
(Comiso in press). A continued decline would mean an advance to the 
north of the 0 [deg]C (32 [deg]F) isotherm temperature gradient, and a 
warmer ocean in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean. This in turn 
may result in a further decline in winter ice cover.
    Predicted Arctic atmospheric and oceanographic changes for time 
periods through the year 2080 include increased air temperatures, 
increased precipitation and run-off, and reduced sea ice extent and 
duration (ACIA 2005, tables on pp. 470 and 476).
Effects of Sea Ice Habitat Change on Polar Bears
    Observed and predicted changes in sea ice cover, characteristics, 
and timing have profound effects on polar bears. Sea ice is a highly 
dynamic habitat with different types, forms, stages, and distributions 
of ice that all operate as a complex matrix in determining biological 
productivity and use by marine organisms, including polar bears and 
their primary prey base--ice seal species. Polar bear use of sea ice is 
not uniform. Their preferred habitat is the annual ice located over 
continental shelf and inter-island archipelagos that circle the Arctic 
basin. Ice seals demonstrate a similar preference to these ice 
habitats.
    Hudson Bay in Canada typifies change in the Arctic due to its 
southern location and occurrence on a divide between a warming and a 
cooling region (AMAP 2003, p. 22). It is therefore an ideal area to 
study the impacts of climate change. In addition, Hudson Bay has the 
most significant long-term time series of data on the ecology of polar 
bears and is the site of the first documented evidence of major and 
ongoing impacts to polar bears from sea ice changes. Many researchers 
over the past 40 years have predicted an array of impacts to polar 
bears from climatic change that include adverse effects on denning, 
food chain disruption, and prey availability (Budyko 1966; Vibe 1967, 
cited in Derocher et al. 2004, p. 164; Lentfer 1972, p. 169; Tynan and 
DeMaster 1997, p. 315; Stirling and Derocher 1993, pp. 241-244). 
Stirling and Derocher (1993, p. 240) first noted changes in polar bears 
in Western Hudson Bay such as declining body condition, lowered 
reproductive rates, and reduced cub survival; they attributed these 
changes to a changing ice environment. Subsequently, Stirling et al. 
(1999, p. 303) established a statistically significant link between 
climate warming in Western Hudson Bay, reduced ice presence, and 
observed declines in polar bear physical and reproductive parameters, 
including body condition (weight) and natality.
Increased Polar Bear Movements
    Polar bears are inefficient moving on land; they expend 
approximately twice the average energy use of other mammals when 
walking (Best 1982, p. 63; Hurst et al. 1982, p. 273). Sea ice 
circulation in the Arctic is clockwise, and polar bears tend to walk 
against this movement to maintain a position near preferred habitat 
within large geographical home ranges (Mauritzen et al. 2003a, p. 111). 
Currently, ice thickness is diminishing and there is increased 
transport of multi-year ice from the polar region. This increased rate 
and extent of ice movements requires additional efforts and energy 
expenditure for polar bears to maintain their position near preferred 
habitats (Derocher et al. 2004, p.167). Ferguson et al. (2001, p. 51) 
found that polar bears inhabiting areas of highly dynamic ice had much 
larger activity areas and movement rates compared to those bears 
inhabiting more stable, persistent ice habitat. Although polar bears 
are capable of living in areas of highly dynamic ice movement, they 
show inter-annual fidelity to the general location of preferred habitat 
(Mauritzen et al. 2003b, p. 122).
    As sea ice moves more quickly or becomes more fragmented, polar 
bears would likely use more energy to maintain contact with 
consolidated ice, because moving through highly fragmented sea ice is 
difficult and likely more energy-intensive than walking over 
consolidated sea ice (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167). During summer 
periods the remaining ice in much of the central Arctic is now 
positioned away from more productive continental shelf waters and over 
much deeper, less productive waters, such as in the Beaufort and 
Chukchi Seas of Alaska. If the width of leads or extent of open water 
increases, the transit time for bears and the need to swim or to travel 
will increase (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167). Derocher et al. (2004, p. 
167) suggests that as habitat patch sizes decrease, available food 
resources are likely to decline, resulting in reduced residency time 
and thus increased movement rates. The consequences of increased 
energetic costs to polar bears are reduced weight and condition and 
corresponding reduction in survival and recruitment rates (Derocher et 
al. 2004, p. 167).
    Additionally, as movement of sea ice increases and areas of 
unconsolidated ice increase, some bears will lose contact with the main 
body of ice and drift into unsuitable habitat from which

[[Page 1073]]

it may be difficult to return (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167). This 
already occurs in some areas such as Southwest Greenland and offshore 
from the island of Newfoundland (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167). 
Increased frequency of such events could negatively impact survival 
rates and contribute to population declines (Derocher et al. 2004, 
p.167).
Polar Bear Distribution Changes
    Recent studies indicate that polar bear distributions are changing 
and that these changes are strongly correlated to similar changes in 
sea ice and the ocean-ice system. Specifically, in Western Hudson Bay, 
breakup of the annual sea ice now occurs approximately 2.5 weeks 
earlier than it did 30 years ago (Stirling et al. 1999, p. 299). The 
earlier spring breakup was highly correlated with dates that female 
polar bears came ashore (Stirling et al. 1999, p. 299). Declining 
reproductive rates, subadult survival, and body mass (weights) have 
resulted from longer periods of fasting on land as a result of the 
progressively earlier breakup of the sea ice caused by an increase in 
spring temperatures (Stirling et al. 1999, p. 304; Derocher et al. 
2004, p. 165).
    Stirling et al. (1999, p. 304) reported a significant decline in 
the condition (weights) of both male and female adult polar bears since 
the 1980s in Western Hudson Bay, as well as lower natality rates. A 
positive relationship between body mass of females with cubs and 
survival of cubs was also established; survival of cubs of mothers in 
better condition (heavier) was greater than survival of cubs from 
lighter mothers (Derocher and Stirling 1996, p. 1248).
    Stirling et al. (1999, p. 304) cautioned that although downward 
trends in the size of the Western Hudson Bay population had not been 
detected, if trends in life history parameters continued downward 
``they will eventually have a detrimental effect on the ability of the 
population to sustain itself.'' Population declines have now been 
determined based on a recent analysis of an ongoing mark-recapture 
population study, and the earlier predictions of Stirling et al. (1999; 
p. 304) have been proven. Between 1987 and 2004, the number of polar 
bears in the Western Hudson Bay population declined from 1,194 to 935, 
a reduction of about 22 percent (Regehr et al. in prep.). Progressive 
declines in the condition and survival of cubs, subadults, and bears 20 
years of age and older, likely initiated the decline in the size of the 
Westen Hudson Bay population; these declines appear to have been 
initiated by progressively earlier sea ice breakup. Once the population 
began to decline, existing harvest rates of this population contributed 
to the reduction in the size of the population (Regehr et al. in 
prep.).
    Starting in the 1990s, Schliebe (unpublished data) has observed a 
trend of increasing use of coastal areas by polar bears during the fall 
open water period in the Southern Beaufort Sea. High numbers of bears 
were found to be using coastal areas during some years, where 
previously observations of polar bears on the coast were rare. The 
study period included record minimal ice conditions for the month of 
September in four of the six survey years. There was a significant 
relationship between the mean distance from the coast to the edge of 
pack ice and the numbers of bears observed on the coast. As the 
distance to the edge of the ice increased, the number of bears near 
shore increased. Conversely, as ice advanced toward shore, the number 
of bears near shore decreased. These results suggest that environmental 
factors, possibly similar to those observed in Western Hudson Bay, are 
influencing the distribution of polar bears in the southern Beaufort 
Sea. They also suggest that increased polar bear use of coastal areas 
may continue if the summer retreat of the sea ice continues to receed 
in the future as predicted (Serreze et al. 2000, p. 159; Serreze and 
Barry 2005).
    Gleason et al. (2006, p. 1) also found a shift in polar bear 
distributions in the southern Beaufort Sea. Their study evaluated polar 
bear distribution during three periods (1979 to 1986, 1987 to 1996, and 
1997 to 2005), and found that the September distribution of polar bears 
was primarily associated with offshore sea ice during the earlier two 
periods, but land and open water during the later period. These 
findings coincide with the lack of pack ice (concentrations of greater 
than 50 percent) caused by a retraction of ice in the study area during 
the latter period (Stroeve et al. 2005, p. 2; Comiso 2002 in Comiso 
2005, p. 46; Comiso 2003, p. 3509; Comiso 2005, p. 52).
    The findings of Gleason et al. (2006 p. 1) are consistent with 
those reported by Schliebe et al. (2006b, p. 559), and confirm an 
increasing trend in use of coastal areas by polar bears in the southern 
Beaufort Sea in recent years and a decline in ice habitat near shore. 
The proximate causes for changes in polar bear distribution are thought 
to be (1) retraction of pack ice far to the north for greater periods 
of time in the fall and (2) later freeze-up of coastal waters.
    Other polar bear populations exhibiting distribution changes with 
larger numbers of bears onshore include the Chukchi Sea (Kochnev 2006, 
p. 162), Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Foxe Basin, and Hudson Bay 
populations (Stirling and Parkinson 2006). Stirling and Parkinson 
(2006, p. 261-275) provide an analysis of pack ice and distribution 
changes for the Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Foxe Basin, and Hudson Bay 
populations. They indicate that earlier sea ice breakup will likely 
result in longer periods of fasting for polar bears during the extended 
open-water season and this is why more polar bears have been observed 
near communities and hunting camps in recent years. Distribution 
changes of polar bears have been noted during a similar period of time 
for the northern coast of Chukotka (Kochnev 2006, p. 162) and on 
Wrangel Island, Russia (Kochnev 2006, p. 162; N. Ovsyanikov, pers. 
comm.). The relationship between the maximum number of polar bears, the 
number of dead walruses, quantity of accessible food, and the distance 
of the ice-edge from Wrangel Island was evaluated. The regression 
analysis revealed that the strongest correlation was between bear 
numbers and distance to the ice-edge (Kochnev 2006, p. 162).
    In Baffin Bay, traditional Inuit knowledge studies and anecdotal 
reports indicate in many areas that greater numbers of bears are being 
encountered on land during the summer and fall open-water seasons. 
Interviews with elders and senior hunters in three communities in 
Nunavut, Canada, revealed that most respondents (83 percent) believed 
that the population of polar bears had increased. The increase was 
attributed to more bears seen near communities, cabins, and camps, and 
hunters encountering bear sign in areas not previously used by bears. 
Some people interviewed noted that these observations could reflect a 
change in bear behavior rather than an increase in population.
    Stirling and Parkinson (2006, p. 263) evaluated sea ice conditions 
and distribution of polar bears in five populations in eastern Canada: 
Western Hudson Bay, Eastern Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, Foxe Basin, and 
Davis Strait. Their analysis of satellite imagery beginning in the 
1970s indicates that the sea ice is breaking up at progressively 
earlier dates, so that bears must fast for longer periods of time 
during the open water season. Stirling and Parkinson (2006, pp. 271-
272) point out that long-term data on population size and body 
condition of bears from the Western Hudson Bay, and population and 
harvest data from the Baffin Bay population indicate that these 
populations are declining or likely to be declining. The authors 
indicate that as

[[Page 1074]]

bears in these populations become more nutritionally stressed, the 
numbers of animals will decline and the declines will probably be 
significant. Based on the recent findings of Holland et al. (2006) 
these events are predicted to occur within the foreseeable future as 
defined in this rule (Stirling, pers. comm. 2006).
    Seasonal polar bear distribution changes noted above and the 
negative effect of prolonged use of terrestrial habitat are a concern 
for populations. Although polar bears have been observed using 
terrestrial food items such as blueberries, snow geese (Anser 
caerulescens), and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), these alternate foods 
are not believed to represent significant sources of energy (Derocher 
et al. 2004, p. 169). Also, the inefficiency of polar bear locomotion 
noted above likely explains why polar bears are not known to hunt musk 
oxen (Ovibos moschatus) or snow geese, potential prey species that co-
occur with the polar bear in many areas (Lunn and Stirling 1985, p. 
2295). The energy needed to catch such species would almost certainly 
exceed the amount of energy a kill would provide (Lunn and Stirling 
1985, p. 2295). Consequently, adaptive behaviors of using terrestrial 
habitat instead of sea ice will not offset energy losses from decreased 
seal consumption, and nutritional stress will result.

Effects of Sea Ice Habitat Changes on Polar Bear Prey

Reduced Seal Productivity
    Ringed seals in many areas prefer stable, shore-fast ice for 
construction of birth lairs. Pups are born between mid-March and mid-
April, nursed for about 6 weeks, and weaned prior to spring breakup in 
June (Smith 1980, p. 2201; Stirling 2002, p. 67). During this time 
period, both ringed seal pups and adults are hunted by polar bears 
(Smith 1980, p. 2201). Ferguson et al. (2005, pp. 130-131) demonstrated 
that decreased snow depth in April and May, possibly influenced by the 
timing of spring breakup, may have a detrimental effect on ringed seal 
recruitment in Western Hudson Bay. Reduced snowfall results in less 
snow drift accumulation to the leeward side of pressure ridges; pups in 
lairs with thin snow roofs are more vulnerable to predation than pups 
in lairs with thick roofs (Ferguson et al 2005, p. 131). Access to 
birth lairs for thermoregulation is considered crucial to the survival 
of nursing pups when air temperatures fall below 0 [deg]C (32 [deg]F) 
(Stirling and Smith 2004, p. 65). Warming temperatures that melt snow-
covered birth lairs contributed to pups being exposed to ambient 
conditions and suffering from hypothermia (Stirling and Smith 2004, p. 
63). Ferguson et al. (2005, p. 121) concluded that ``earlier spring 
breakup of sea ice together with snow trends suggest continued low pup 
survival in western Hudson Bay.''
    Harwood et al. (2000, pp. 11-12) reported that an early spring 
breakup negatively impacted the growth, condition, and probably the 
survival of unweaned ringed seal pups. Early breakup was believed to 
have interrupted lactation in adult females, which in turn, negatively 
affected the condition and growth of pups. Earlier ice breakups similar 
to those documented by Harwood et al. (2000, p. 11) and Ferguson et al. 
(2005, p. 131) are predicted to occur more frequently, and as a result 
a decrease in productivity and abundance of ringed seals is predicted 
(Ferguson et al. 2005, p. 131). Similar to earlier spring breakup or 
reduced snow cover, increased rain on snow events during the late 
winter also negatively impact ringed seal recruitment by damaging or 
eliminating snow-covered pupping lairs, increasing exposure and the 
risk of hypothermia, and facilitating predation by polar bears and 
Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) (Stirling and Smith 2004, p. 65). 
Stirling and Smith (2004, p. 64) document the collapse of the snow 
roofs of ringed seal birth lairs near southeastern Baffin Island and 
the resultant exposure of adult seals and pups to hypothermia. 
Predation of pups by polar bears was observed and the researchers 
suspect that most of the pups in these areas were eventually killed by 
polar bears (Stirling and Archibald 1977, p. 1127), Arctic foxes (Smith 
1976 cited in Stirling and Smith 2004, p. 65) or possibly gulls 
(Lydersen and Smith 1989 cited in Stirling and Smith 2004, p. 66). 
Stirling and Smith (2004, p. 66) postulated that should early season 
rain become regular and widespread in the future, mortality of ringed 
seal pups will increase, especially in more southerly parts of their 
range, and local populations may be significantly reduced. Any 
significant decline in ringed seal numbers, especially in the 
production of young, could affect reproduction and survival of polar 
bears (Stirling and Smith 2004, p. 66).

Reduced Prey and Availability

    Ringed seals are the primary prey of the polar bear in most areas, 
though bearded seals, walrus, harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), harp seals 
(Phoca greenlandica), hooded seals (Crystophora cristata), and beluga 
whales are sometimes taken and may be locally important to some 
populations (Stirling and Archibald 1977, p. 1129; Smith 1980, p. 2206; 
Smith and Sjare 1990, p. 100; Iverson et al. 2006, p. 114). Ice-
associated seals, including the ringed seal, are vulnerable to habitat 
loss from changes in the extent or concentration of Arctic ice because 
they depend on pack-ice habitat for pupping, foraging, molting, and 
resting (Tynan and DeMaster 1997, p. 312; Derocher et al. 2004, p. 
168).
    Polar bear populations are known to fluctuate based on prey 
availability (Stirling and Lunn 1997, p. 177). For example, declines in 
ringed and bearded seal numbers and productivity have resulted in 
marked declines in polar bear populations (Stirling 1980, p. 309; 
Stirling and [Oslash]slashritsland 1995, p. 2609; Stirling 2002, p. 
68). Ringed seal young-of-the-year represented the majority of the 
polar bear diet, and fluctuations in the productivity of ringed seal 
pups will likely be reflected immediately in polar bear reproduction 
and cub survival (Stirling and Lunn 1997, p. 177). For polar bears, the 
most critical factor which affects reproductive success, subsequent 
condition, and survival is the availability of ringed seal pups from 
about mid-April to ice break up sometime in July (Stirling and Lunn 
1997, p. 176).
    Thus, major declines in sea ice habitat as projected will likely 
result in a decline in polar bear abundance over time due to reduced 
prey availability (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167). The effects of 
declining ice habitat on seals will vary depending on the location, 
timing and extent of reductions, based on the information presented by 
Derocher et al. (2004). While it is possible that reduced ice cover 
along with increased open and warmer water will enhance primary 
productivity of seal prey items, and thus seal productivity, ultimately 
such a regime will negatively impact polar bears. An increased area and 
duration of open water will result in polar bears having reduced access 
to prey during critical periods of the year and physical condition of 
bears will decline. Further, reductions in sea ice cover will result in 
diminished productivity and distribution changes of ringed seals over 
time because seals depend on sea ice for pupping and resting. Thus a 
reduction in sea ice is likely to result in a net reduction in 
abundance of ringed seals (ACIA 2005, p. 520).
    Grebmeier et al. (2006, p. 1461) found that a major ecosystem shift 
is occurring in the Northern Bering Sea indicated by a decrease in 
benthic (bottom-dwelling) prey populations, which could affect Pacific 
walrus and bearded seal

[[Page 1075]]

populations and result in an increase in pelagic fish. Arctic cod 
(Boreogadus saida), one of the primary prey species of ringed seals, is 
strongly associated with sea ice throughout its range and uses the 
underside of the ice to escape from predators (Craig et al. 1982 and 
Sekerak 1982 cited in Gaston et al. 2003, p. 230). It is therefore 
likely that a decrease in seasonal ice cover could have adverse effects 
on Arctic cod (Tynan and DeMaster 1997, p. 314; Gaston et al. 2003, p. 
231). Sea ice regime changes in the Arctic have been implicated in 
distribution changes of other species as well. Cooper et al. (2006, p. 
98) observed orphaned Pacific walrus in waters as deep as 3,000 m 
(9,843 ft) in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean. These observations 
indicate that the Pacific walrus population may be ill-adapted to rapid 
seasonal sea ice retreat off Arctic continental shelves.
    Several species of seals that currently occur at the southern edge 
of the range of polar bears could also expand their range northward. In 
the north Pacific, this could include harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), 
spotted seals (Phoca largha), and ribbon seals (Phoca fasciata). In the 
north Atlantic, harp and hooded seals could expand northward and become 
available as prey, particularly if their pupping (natal) grounds 
located on heavy, thicker ice are only available in more northern 
latitudes (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 168). A study of seals preyed upon 
by polar bears in three major regions of the Canadian Arctic, Davis 
Strait, western Hudson Bay, and the Beaufort Sea, revealed that diets 
differed among the regions, and within the region for Davis Strait. 
These differences were thought to be based on different rates of 
availability of the different seal species, as determined by their 
abundance.
    The absence of ice in southerly pupping areas or the relocation of 
pupping areas to more northerly areas could affect seal production. 
Repeated years of little or no ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence resulted 
in almost zero production of harp seal pups, compared to hundreds of 
thousands in good ice years (ACIA 2005, p. 510). Marginal ice 
conditions and early ice breakup during harp seal whelping are believed 
to have resulted in increased juvenile mortality from starvation and 
cold stress and an overall reduction in this age class (Johnston et al. 
2005, pp. 215-216). Northerly shifts of whelping areas for hooded seals 
were reported to occur during periods of warmer climate and diminished 
ice (Burns 2002 p. 42). In recent years, the position of the hooded 
seal whelping patch near Jan Mayen has changed position, likely in 
response to decreased sea ice in East Greenland; the number of seal 
also decreased (T. Haug, pers. comm. 2005). Marginal sea ice cover may 
have significant effects on harp and hooded seals since the amount and 
quality of ice suitable for whelping may be greatly reduced, resulting 
in higher density whelping areas (Johnston et al. 2005, p. 218). 
Crowding in whelping areas may increase the risks of disease 
transmissions and epizootics (Fay 1974, p. 394), but the effects of 
crowding at the harp and hooded seal whelping patches are largely 
unknown (Johnston et al. 2005, p. 218). Born (2005a) indicated that 
early ice breakup in years with ``light'' ice conditions may influence 
seals other than ringed seals. Other ice breeding seals, ribbon and 
spotted seals, may also be similarly affected by marginal ice 
conditions and early breakup (Born 2005a). It is unlikely that 
increased take of other species such as bearded seals, walrus, or 
harbor seals, even where they are available, could compensate for 
reduced availability of ringed seals (Derocher et al. 2004, pp. 168-
169).
    Changes in prey availability may have especially large impacts on 
immature bears. Polar bears feed preferentially on blubber, and adult 
bears often leave much of a kill behind. Younger bears, which are not 
as efficient at taking seals, are known to utilize these kills to 
supplement their diet (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 168). Younger bears may 
be disproportionately impacted if there are fewer kills or greater 
consumption of kills by adults, resulting in less prey to scavenge 
(Derocher et al. 2004, pp. 167-168). Altered prey distribution would 
also likely lead to increased competition for prey between dominant and 
subordinate bears, resulting in subordinate or sub-adult bears having 
reduced access to prey (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167). Thus, a decrease 
in ringed seal abundance and availability would result in a concomitant 
decline in polar bear populations.
Demographic Effects on Polar Bears
    The potential effects of sea ice changes on population size are 
difficult to quantify, especially for a long-lived and widely dispersed 
species like the polar bear. The key demographic factors for polar 
bears are physical condition, reproduction, and survival. Alteration of 
these characteristics has been associated with elevated risks of 
extinction for other species (McKinney 1997; Beissinger 2000; Owens and 
Bennett 2000 all cited in Derocher et al. 2004, p. 170).
    Physical condition of polar bears has been shown to determine the 
welfare of individuals, and ultimately, through their reproduction and 
survival, the welfare of populations (Stirling et al. 1999, p. 304; 
Regehr et al. in prep). Declines in fat reserves during critical times 
in the polar bear life cycle are likely to lead to an array of impacts 
including a delay in the age of first reproduction, decrease in the 
proportion of females with adequate fat stores to complete successful 
denning, decline in litter sizes with more single cub litters and fewer 
cubs overall, as well as lower cub body weights and lower survival 
rates (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 170). Derocher and Stirling (1998, pp. 
255-256) demonstrated that body mass of adult females is correlated 
with cub mass at den emergence, with heavier females producing heavier 
cubs and lighter females producing lighter cubs. Heavier cubs have a 
higher rate of survival (Derocher and Stirling 1996, p. 1249). Females 
in poor condition will result in a higher proportion that do not 
initiate denning or are likely to abandon their den and cub(s) mid-
winter (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 170). Females with insufficient fat 
stores or in poor hunting condition in the early spring after den 
emergence could lead to increased cub mortality (Derocher et al. 2004, 
p. 170). In the southern Beaufort Sea, Regehr et al. (2006, p. 20) 
recently found that survival rates for cubs were significantly lower 
than estimates from earlier studies. The lower survival rate of cubs 
coincided with warming temperatures and altered atmospheric circulation 
starting in the winter of 1989-1990 that caused an abrupt change in sea 
ice conditions in the Arctic basin. In addition, sea ice conditions 
that include broken or more fragmented ice may require young cubs to 
enter water more frequently and for more prolonged periods of time, 
thus increasing mortality from hypothermia. Blix and Lenter (1979, p. 
72) and Larsen (1985, p. 325) indicate that cubs are unable to survive 
immersion in icy water for more than approximately 10 minutes. This is 
due to cubs having little insulating fat, their fur losing its 
insulating ability when wet (though the fur of adults sheds water and 
recovers its insulating properties quickly), and the core body 
temperature dropping rapidly when they are immersed in icy water (Blix 
and Lenter 1979, p. 72).
    Reductions in sea ice, as discussed above, will alter ringed seal 
distribution, abundance, and availability for polar bears. Such 
reductions will, in turn, decrease polar bear body condition (Derocher 
et al. 2004, p. 165). Derocher et al. (2004, p. 165) projected that 
most females in the Western Hudson Bay

[[Page 1076]]

population may be unable to reach the minimum 189 kg (417 lbs) body 
mass required to successfully reproduce by the year 2012.
    Furthermore, with the extent of winter sea ice projected to be 
reduced in the future, opportunities for increased feeding to recover 
fat stores during this season may be limited. Mortality of polar bears 
is thought to be the highest in winter when fat stores are low and 
energetic demands are greatest. Pregnant females are in dens during 
this period using fat reserves and not feeding. Polar bears hunt seals 
at their breathing holes, however, increased open water or fragmented 
ice will provide seals alternatives to establishing breathing holes, 
likely reducing their availability to polar bears and decreasing bear 
hunting success (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167).
    In general, Derocher et al. (2004, p. 170) predict demographic 
impacts will adversely affect female reproductive rates and juvenile 
survival first while adult female survival rates would be affected 
under severe conditions. Regehr et al. (2005, p. 233) showed that while 
the Western Hudson Bay population has declined 22 percent since 1987, 
this decline was not uniform across all age classes of bears. Survival 
of prime-adult polar bears (age 5 to 19 years) was stable over the 
course of the study; however, survival of juvenile, subadult, and past 
prime age polar bears declined as a function of earlier spring sea ice 
breakup date.
    The Southern Beaufort Sea population has also been subject to 
dramatic changes in the sea ice environment beginning in the winter of 
1989 to 1990 (Regehr et al. 2006, p. 2). These changes were linked 
initially through direct observation of distribution changes during the 
fall open water period. With the exception of the Western Hudson Bay 
population, the Southern Beaufort Sea population has the most complete 
and extensive time series of life history data, dating back to the late 
1960s. A 5-year coordinated capture-recapture study of this population 
to evaluate changes in the health and status of polar bears and life 
history parameters such as reproduction, survival, and abundance was 
completed in 2006. Results of this study indicate that the estimated 
population size has gone from 1,800 bears (Amstrup et al. 1986, p. 244; 
Amstup 2000, p. 146) to 1,526 polar bears in 2006 (Regehr et al. 2006, 
p. 16). The precision of the earlier estimate of 1,800 polars was low, 
and consequently the 2006 estimate of 1,526 is not statistically 
significantly different. Amstrup et al. (2001, p. 230) provides an 
additional population estimate of as many as 2,500 bears for this 
population in the late 1980s, although the statistical variance could 
not be calculated and thus precludes comparative value of the estimate. 
Survival rates, weights, and skull sizes were compared for 2 periods of 
time, 1967 to 1989 and 1990 to 2006. In the later period, estimates of 
total survival for cubs declined significantly from .65 (Amstrup and 
Durner 1995, p. 1316) to .43. Cub weights also decreased slightly. The 
authors believed that poor survival of new cubs may have been related 
to declining physical condition of females entering dens and 
consequently of the cubs born during recent years as reflected by 
smaller skull measurements. Also, between years during the 5-year 
study, a general decline in survival rates for cubs, females older than 
cubs, and males older than cubs was noted. In addition, body weights 
for adult males decreased significantly and skull measurements were 
reduced since 1990. Since male polar bears continue to grow into their 
teen years (Derocher et al. 2005, p. 898), if nutritional intake was 
similar since 1990, the size of males should have increased (Regehr et 
al. 2006, p. 18). The observed changes reflect a trend toward smaller 
size adult male bears. Although a number of the indices of population 
status were not independently significant, nearly all of the indices 
illustrated a declining trend. In the case of Western Hudson Bay, 
declines in cub survival and physical stature were recorded for a 
number of years (Stirling et al. 1999, p. 300; Derocher et al. 2004, p. 
165) before a statistically significant decline in the population size 
was confirmed (Regehr et al. in prep.). Amstrup (pers. comm. 2006) 
indicates that if the trends in loss of sea ice continue as predicted, 
then, similar to the conditions for the Western Hudson Bay population, 
the ultimate effect will be a significant decline in the population 
trend for the Southern Beaufort Sea population. This declining trend 
will occur within the 45-year period determined to be the foreseeable 
future.
    In further support of the interaction of environmental factors, 
nutritional stress and their effect on polar bears, several unusual 
mortality events have been documented in the southern Beaufort Sea. 
During the winter and early spring of 2004, three observations of polar 
bear cannibalism were recorded (Amstrup et al. 2006, p. 1). Similar 
observations had not been recorded in that region despite studies 
extending back for decades. In the fall of 2004, four polar bears were 
observed to have drowned while attempting to swim between shore and 
distant pack ice in the Beaufort Sea. Despite offshore surveys 
extending back to 1987, similar observations had not previously been 
recorded (Monnett and Gleason 2006, p. 3). In spring of 2006, three 
adult female polar bears and one yearling were found dead. Two of these 
females and the yearling had no fat stores and apparently starved to 
death, while the third adult female was too heavily scavenged to 
determine a cause of death. This mortality is suspicious because prime 
age females have had very high survival rates in the past (Amstrup and 
Durner 1995, p. 1315). Similarly, the yearling that was found starved 
was the offspring of another radio-collared prime age female whose 
collar had failed prior to her yearling being found dead. Annual 
survival of yearlings, given survival of their mother, was previously 
estimated to be 0.86 (Amstrup and Durner 1995, p. 1316). The 
probability, therefore, that this yearling died while its mother was 
still alive was only approximately 14 percent. Regehr et al. (2006, p. 
27) indicate that these anecdotal observations, in combination with 
changes in survival of young and declines in size and weights reported 
above suggest mechanisms by which a changing sea ice environment can 
affect polar bear demographics and population status.
Open Water Habitat
    As indicated earlier, open water is not considered essential 
habitat to polar bear life functions because activities such as 
feeding, reproduction, or resting do not occur on the open water and 
are limited when only open water is available. However, the extent of 
open water is important in that vast areas of open water present a 
barrier or hazard under certain circumstances for polar bears to access 
sea ice or land. Diminished sea ice cover will also increase the 
energetic cost to polar bears for travel, pose potential for drowning 
that may occur during long distance swimming or swimming under 
unfavorable sea wave conditions, and may result in hypothermia for 
young cubs as previously discussed. Under diminishing sea ice scenarios 
(IPCC 2001, p. 489; ACIA 2005, p. 192; Serreze 2006), ice-dependent 
seals, the principal prey of polar bears will also be affected through 
distribution changes and reductions in productivity, ultimately 
translating into reductions in population size.
Reduced Feeding Opportunities
    Polar bears are capable of swimming great distances, but exhibit a 
strong preference for sea ice (Mauritzen et al.

[[Page 1077]]

2003b, pp. 119-120). However, polar bears will also quickly abandon sea 
ice for land once the sea ice concentration drops below 50 percent. 
This is likely due to reduced hunting success in broken ice with 
significant open water (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167; Stirling et al. 
1999, pp. 302-303). Bears have only rarely been reported to capture 
ringed seals in open water (Furnell and Oolooyuk 1980 cited in Derocher 
et al. 2004, p. 167), therefore it is unlikely that hunting in ice-free 
water would be able to compensate for the corresponding loss of sea ice 
and the access sea ice affords polar bears to hunt ringed seals 
(Stirling and Derocher 1993, p. 241; Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167).
    Overall, a reduction in sea ice and corresponding increase in open 
water is likely to result in a net reduction in ringed and bearded 
seals, and Pacific walrus abundance (ACIA 2005, p. 510) as well as a 
reduction in ribbon and spotted seals (Born 2005a). While harp and 
hooded seals may change their distribution and potentially serve as a 
prey for polar bears, it appears unlikely that these species can 
successfully redistribute in a rapidly changing environment and 
reproduce and survive at former levels. Loss of southern pupping areas 
due to inadequate or highly variable ice conditions may also serve to 
reduce these species as a potential polar bear prey (Derocher et al. 
2004, p. 168). It is also unlikely that increased take of other species 
such as bearded seals, walrus, harbor seals, or harp and hooded seals 
regionally if they are available, could compensate for reduced 
availability of ringed seals (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 168).
Open Water Swimming
    Open water is considered to present a potential hazard to polar 
bears required to make long distance transits of that open water 
seeking sea ice or land habitat. As indicated previously, four polar 
bears drowned in open water while attempting to swim between shore and 
distant ice in 2004 (Monnett and Gleason 2006, p. 5). Because the 
survey area covered 11 percent of the study area, an extrapolation of 
the survey data to the entire study area indicates that up to 36 bears 
may have been swimming and 27 of these may have drowned during this 
event. Seas during this period were rough and extensive areas of open 
water persisted between pack ice and land. Mortalities due to offshore 
swimming during late-ice (or mild ice) years may also be an important 
and unaccounted source of natural mortality given energetic demands 
placed on individual bears engaged in long-distance swimming (Monnett 
and Gleason 2006, p. 6). This evidence suggests that drowning-related 
deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend 
of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.
    Wave height (sea state) increases as a function of the amount of 
open water surface area. Thus ice reduction not only increases areas of 
open water across which polar bears must swim, but may have an 
influence on the size of wave action. Considered together these may 
result in over-all increases in bear mortality associated with swimming 
when there is little sea ice to buffer wave action (Monnett and Gleason 
2006, p. 5). Evidence of such mortality has also been reported by 
Julian Dowdeswell, Head of the Scott Polar Research Institute of 
England, who observed one exhausted and one apparently dead polar bear 
apparently stranded at sea east of Svalbard in 2006.
Terrestrial Habitat
    Although sea ice is the polar bear's principal habitat, terrestrial 
habitat serves a vital function seasonally for denning. In addition, 
use of terrestrial habitat is seasonally important for resting and 
feeding in the absence of suitable sea ice. This habitat may take on a 
more prominent role in maintaining the health and condition of polar 
bears in future years. The following section describes the effects or 
potential effects of climate change and other factors on polar bear use 
of terrestrial habitat. It focuses on access to or changes in the 
quality of denning habitat, and on distribution changes and 
corresponding increases in polar bear-human interactions in coastal 
areas. Also discussed are the potential consequences of and potential 
concerns for development, primarily oil and gas exploration and 
production that occurs in polar bear habitat (marine and terrestrial).
Access to and Alteration of Denning Areas
    Many female polar bears repeatedly return to specific denning areas 
on land (Harrington 1968, p. 11; Schweinsburg et al. 1984, p. 169; 
Garner et al. 1994b, p. 401; Ramsay and Stirling 1990, p. 233). To 
access preferred denning areas, pack ice must drift close enough or 
must freeze sufficiently early in the fall to allow pregnant females to 
walk or swim to the area by late October or early November (Derocher et 
al. 2004, p. 166). Under likely climate change scenarios, the distance 
between the edge of the pack ice and land will increase (ACIA 2005, pp. 
456-459). As distance increases between the southern edge of the pack 
ice and coastal denning areas, it will become increasingly difficult 
for females to access preferred denning locations. Most high-density 
denning areas are located at more southerly latitudes (Figure 2). For 
populations that den at high latitudes in the Canadian archipelago 
islands, the effects may be less or may become evident later in time 
than for more southerly populations.
    The most recent study based on updated modeling suggests that near 
ice-free September conditions may be reached as early as 2040 (Holland 
et al., 2006). Derocher et al. (2004, p. 166) predicted that under 
these climate change scenarios, pregnant female polar bears will likely 
be unable to reach many of the most important denning areas in the 
Svalbard Archipelago, Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, Wrangel Island, 
Hudson Bay, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and north coast of 
the Beaufort Sea (Figure 2).
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    Increased drift rates of ice floes that may serve as a platform for 
denning are of concern (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 166). In northern 
Alaska, polar bear maternity

[[Page 1079]]

dens were found on drifting multiyear ice several hundred km north of 
the coast (Amstrup and Gardner 1994, p. 5). Although use of pelagic 
denning habitat is not widespread, in the past it has provided 
important habitat for some populations. Though the stability of pack 
ice and corresponding use for denning in the future under projected 
diminishing sea ice scenarios are uncertain, recent findings by 
Fishbach et al. (2005, p. 1) indicate an increasing trend for a greater 
proportion of polar bears dens in northern Alaska to be located on land 
and fewer to be located on pack ice. The findings indicate that changes 
in the character and suitability of sea ice have resulted in the 
detected shift of denning on land.
    In some locations, bears may adopt the denning strategy used by the 
Western Hudson Bay population, where pregnant females leave the ice in 
the spring at breakup and summer in locations near where they 
ultimately den (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 166). Under such a scenario 
females must accumulate sufficient fat stores to fast for 8, or more, 
months before they can return to sea ice to resume feeding on seals 
(Derocher et al. 2004, p. 166). While this strategy may be used more 
frequently in the future, its usefulness in maintaining populations is 
questionable. The results of Regehr et al. (in press) indicate that the 
Western Hudson Bay population has been in decline over the past 19 
years, with the physical condition of bears declining due to greater 
periods of fasting on land caused by earlier spring breakup (Stirling 
et al. 1999, p. 300).
    Climate change also impacts the quality of snow for denning 
(Derocher et al. 2004, p. 166). Insufficient snow limits den 
construction (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 166). Changes in the amount and 
timing of snowfall also impact the thermal properties of the dens 
(Derocher et al. 2004, p. 166). Because polar bear cubs are born 
helpless and nurse up to 3 months before emerging from the den; major 
changes in the thermal properties of dens could negatively impact cub 
survival (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 167). For example two cubs born to a 
captive held female without a den and exposed to temperatures of 
approximately -43 [deg]C (-45 [deg]F), both died within 2 days (Blix 
and Lentfer 1979, p. 67).
    Finally, the occurrences of rain events are projected to increase 
throughout the Arctic in winter (ACIA 2005, p. 993). Increased rain in 
late winter and early spring can result in both polar bear natal den 
collapses as well as ringed seal den collapses (Stirling and Smith 
2004, p. 64). Polar bear den collapse following a warming period in the 
Beaufort Sea resulted in the death of a mother and her two young cubs 
(Clarkson and Irish 1991, p. 83). In another instance, unseasonable 
rain south of Churchill, Manitoba, caused large snow banks along creeks 
and rivers used for denning to collapse from the weight of the wet snow 
(Stirling and Derocher 1993, p. 244).
Oil and Gas Exploration, Development, and Production
    Each of the Parties to the 1973 Polar Bear Agreement (see 
International Agreements and Oversight section below), have developed 
detailed regulations pertaining to the extraction of oil and gas within 
their countries. The greatest level of oil and gas activity within 
polar bear habitat is currently occurring in the United States 
(Alaska). Exploration and production activities are also actively 
underway in Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland). In the 
United States, all such leasing and production activities are required 
to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et 
seq. (NEPA), and numerous other statutes, which guide exploration, 
development and production so as to minimize possible environmental 
impacts. In Alaska, the majority of oil and gas development is on land, 
however, some offshore production sites have been developed, and others 
are planned.
    Historically, oil and gas activities have resulted in little direct 
mortality to polar bears, and that mortality which has occurred, has 
been associated with human bear interactions as opposed to a spill 
event. However, oil and gas activities are increasing as development 
continues to expand throughout the United States Arctic and 
internationally, including in polar bear terrestrial and marine 
habitats. The greatest concern for future oil and gas development is 
the effect of an oil spill or discharges in the marine environment 
impacting polar bears or their habitat. Much of the north slope of 
Alaska contains habitat suitable for polar bear denning (Durner et al. 
2001, p. 119). Further, in northern Alaska and elsewhere, distribution 
of polar bears appears to be changing to use of land areas during the 
open water season. Some of these areas coincide with areas that have 
been developed for oil and gas production. This increases the potential 
for interactions with humans (Durner et al. 2001, p. 115; National 
Research Council (NRC) 2003, p. 168).
    The National Research Council (2003, p. 169) evaluated the 
cumulative effects of oil and gas development in Alaska and concluded 
the following relates to polar bears and ringed seals:
     ``Industrial activity in the marine waters of the Beaufort 
Sea has been limited and sporadic and likely has not caused serious 
cumulative effects to ringed seals or polar bears.
     Careful mitigation can help to reduce the effects of oil 
and gas development and their accumulation, especially if there is no 
major oil spill. However, the effects of full-scale industrial 
development of waters off the North Slope would accumulate through the 
displacement of polar bears and ringed seals from their habitats, 
increased mortality, and decreased reproductive success.
     A major Beaufort Sea oil spill would have major effects on 
polar bears and ringed seals.
     Climatic warming at predicted rates in the Beaufort Sea 
region is likely to have serious consequences for ringed seals and 
polar bears, and those effects will accumulate with the effects of oil 
and gas activities in the region.
     Unless studies to address the potential accumulation of 
effects on North Slope polar bears or ringed seals are designed, 
funded, and conducted over long periods of time, it will be impossible 
to verify whether such effects occur, to measure them, or to explain 
their causes.''
    There is the potential for alteration of polar bear habitat from 
oil and gas development, exploration (seismic) or other activities in 
denning areas, and potential oil spills in the marine environment. Any 
such impacts would be additive to other factors already or potentially 
affecting polar bears and their habitat.
    Documented impacts on polar bears by the oil and gas industry 
during the past 30 years are minimal. Polar bears spend a limited 
amount of time on land, coming ashore to feed, den, or move to other 
areas. At times, fall storms deposit bears along the coastline where 
bears remain until the ice returns. For this reason, polar bears have 
mainly been encountered at or near most coastal and offshore production 
facilities, or along the roads and causways that link these facilities 
to the mainland. During those periods, the likelihood of interactions 
between polar bears and industry activities increases. We have found 
that the polar bears interaction planning and training requirements set 
forth in these regulations and required through the letters of 
authorization (LOA) process have increased polar bear awareness and 
minimized these encounters. LOA requirements have also increased our 
knowledge of polar bear activity in the developed areas.

[[Page 1080]]

    No lethal take associated with industry has occurred during the 
period covered by incidental take regulations. Prior to issuance of 
regulations, lethal takes by industry were rare. Since 1968, there have 
been two documented cases of lethal take of polar bears associated with 
oil and gas activities. In both instances, the lethal take was reported 
to be in defense of human life. In the winter of 1968-1969, an industry 
employee shot and killed a polar bear. In 1990, a female polar bear was 
killed at a drill site on the west side of Camden Bay. In contrast, 33 
polar bears were killed in the Canadian Northwest Territories from 1976 
to 1986 due to encounters with industry. Since the beginning of the 
incidental take program, which includes measures that minimize impacts 
to the species, no polar bears have been killed due to encounters 
associated with the current industry activities on the North Slope of 
Alaska.
    However, based on mitigation measures in place now and likely to be 
used in the future, historical information on the level of oil and gas 
development activities occurring within polar bear habitat within the 
Arctic, the lack of direct quantifiable impacts to polar bear habitat 
from these activities noted to date, and because of the localized 
nature of the development activities, or possible events such as oil 
spills, they do not threaten the species throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range.
Conclusion for Factor A
    Polar bears have evolved in a sea ice environment and sea ice 
serves as an essential platform from which they meet life functions. 
Polar bear populations throughout the Arctic are being affected by 
changes in their sea ice habitat. Increased temperatures, earlier onset 
of and longer melting periods, increased rain-on-snow events, and 
positive feedback systems which amplify these phenomena will all 
operate to decrease the extent of sea ice during all seasons. This will 
result in fragmentation of habitat, increase the extent of open water 
areas in all seasons, reduce the amount of heavier and more stable 
multi-year ice, and affect the quality of shore fast ice. In turn, 
these factors will negatively impact polar bears by increasing the 
energetic demands of movement in seeking prey, redistributing 
substantial portions of populations seasonally into terrestrial 
habitats with marginal values for feeding, and increasing levels of 
negative bear-human interactions. As the sea ice edge retracts to 
deeper, less productive polar basin waters, polar bears will face 
increased intraspecific competition for limited food resources and 
increased open water swimming. We expect similar reductions in 
productivity for most ice seal species (decreasing availability or 
timing of availability for polar bears as food), composition changes of 
seal species in some areas, and eventually decreased levels of seal 
abundance. Prey species, such as ringed seals, will likely remain 
distributed in shallower, more productive southerly areas characterized 
by vast expanses of open water. These factors will, in turn, result in 
the reduced physical condition of polar bears, which leads to 
population-level demographic declines through reduction of survival and 
recruitment rates. The ultimate effect of these inter-related events, 
factors, and effects (Table 1) will be that polar bear populations will 
decline or continue to decline. Not all populations will be affected 
evenly in the level, rate, and timing of impact, but within the 
foreseeable future, it is predicted that all populations will be either 
directly or indirectly impacted.

  Table 1.--Likely Impacts to the Polar Bear From Recession of the Sea
      Ice--Adapted and Modified From Derocher et al. (2004, p. 171)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Characteristic           Time frame \1\      Projected change
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Body weight/condition..........  Short...........  Decline, increased
                                                    variation.
Movement patterns..............  Short...........  Increased, alteration
                                                    of existing
                                                    patterns.
Cub survival...................  Short...........  Decline, increased
                                                    variation.
Reproductive rates.............  Short...........  Variable, increased
                                                    variation.
Bear-human interactions........  Variable........  Increase.
Den areas......................  Medium..........  Reduced access,
                                                    modification of
                                                    areas used.
Growth rates...................  Medium..........  Variable, downward
                                                    trend.
Prey composition...............  Medium..........  Change in species,
                                                    utilization, age of
                                                    prey.
Population boundaries..........  Medium..........  Mixing of adjacent
                                                    populations.
Population size................  Medium..........  Variable downward
                                                    trend.
Intraspecific aggression.......  Variable........  Increased.
Cannibalism....................  Variable........  Possible increase.
Adult survival.................  Medium-Long.....  Decline, Increased
                                                    variation.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Short = <10 years, Medium = 10-20 years, Long = >20 years. Time
  frame of impact will vary between populations and is dependent upon
  rate of change in a given population.

    The southerly populations of Western Hudson Bay, Southern Hudson 
Bay, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait, and Baffin Bay, where bears already 
experience stress from seasonal ice retreat fasting, will be affected 
earliest (Stirling and Parkinson 2006). Earlier melt periods and 
increased open water periods will result in lengthened seasonal use of 
land and increased period of fasting, resulting in decreased physical 
condition for bears in these populations. Other populations including 
the Chukchi Sea, Barents Sea, Southern Beaufort Sea and possibly the 
Kara Sea and Laptev Sea (these are characterized as open Arctic Basin 
populations) will, or are currently, experiencing initial effects of 
changes in sea ice. These populations are vulnerable to large-scale 
dramatic seasonal fluctuations in ice movements, decreased abundance 
and access to prey, and increased energetic costs of hunting. We expect 
that the polar bear populations inhabiting the central island 
archipelago of Canada will be affected later. These more northerly 
populations are expected to be affected last due to the buffering 
effects of the island archipelago complex, which lessens effects of 
oceanic currents and seasonal retractions of ice and retains a higher 
proportion of heavy, more stable multi-year sea ice. These populations 
include Norwegian Bay, Lancaster Sound, M'Clintock Channel, Viscount-
Melville, Kane Basin, and the Gulf of Boothia.
    For polar bears, current and anticipated changes to the sea ice 
habitat are expected to threaten the species (Aars et al. 2006). This

[[Page 1081]]

conclusion is consistent with the 2006 finding by the World 
Conservation Union (IUCN). The IUCN, based on the PBSG assessment, 
reclassified polar bears as ``vulnerable.'' The basis for the 
classification was the projected change in sea ice, effect of climatic 
warming on polar bear distribution and condition, and corresponding 
effect on reproduction and survival.
    Some scientists conclude that the ``future persistence of polar 
bears is tenuous'' (Derocher et al. 2004, p. 172), reinforcing their 
earlier warnings that ``[u]ltimately, if sea ice disappeared 
altogether, polar bears would become extinct'' (Stirling and Derocher 
1993, p. 243). Changes in the timing of sea ice formation and break-up 
and the loss of the polar bear's sea ice habitat will pose increasing 
risk to polar bears as the climate continues to warm (Derocher et al. 
2004, p. 164), and ultimately all polar bear populations will suffer. 
Rosentrater (2005, p. 3) notes ``if current trends continue, polar 
bears and other species that require a stable ice platform for survival 
could become extinct by the end of the century.''
    This opinion is not universally shared. Other polar bear biologists 
have indicated that it is possible, even with the total loss of summer 
sea ice, that a small number of polar bears would survive semi-
indefinitely and not go extinct provided there is still some ice cover 
during the winter and marine mammals continued to be available for 
capture or scavenging. As a species, polar bears have survived at least 
two warming periods, the Eem Interglacial period (140,000-115,000 years 
Before Present (BP)), and the Holocene ``climate optimum'' (ca 8000-
4000 BP) (Dansgaard et al. 1993, p. 218; Dahl-Jensen et al. 1998, p. 
268). Greenland ice cores revealed that the climate was much more 
variable in the past and some of the historical shifts between the warm 
and cold periods were rapid, suggesting that the recent relative 
climate stability seen during the Holocene may be an exception 
(Dansgaard et al. 1993, p. 218). The precise impacts of these warming 
periods on polar bears and the Arctic sea ice habitat are unknown.
    A recent study of the Bering Sea, one of the most productive marine 
ecosystems on the planet, concluded ``[a] change from arctic to 
subarctic conditions is underway in the northern Bering Sea'' 
(Grebmeier et al. 2006, p. 1461). This is being caused by warmer air 
and water temperatures, and less sea ice. ``These observations support 
a continued trend toward more subarctic ecosystem conditions in the 
northern Bering Sea, which may have profound impacts on Arctic marine 
mammal and diving seabird populations as well as commercial and 
subsistence fisheries'' (Grebmeier et al. 2006, p. 1463).
    As the changes in marine ecosystems continue, polar bear 
populations are expected to experience impacts comparable to those 
already observed in the Western Hudson Bay (Stirling et al. 1999, p. 
304) as well as in the Southern Beaufort Sea (Regehr et al. 2006, 
p.14). Changes in the timing of sea ice formation and break up will 
pose increasing risk to polar bears as the climate continues to warm 
(Derocher et al. 2004, p. 173), and ultimately affect all polar bear 
populations and threaten the species throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range in the foreseeable future.
    We find that polar bear populations throughout their distribution 
in the circumpolar Arctic are threatened by ongoing and projected 
changes in their sea ice habitat.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Use of polar bears for commercial, recreational, scientific, and 
education purposes is generally low, with the exception of harvest. Use 
for non-lethal scientific purposes is highly regulated and does not 
pose a threat to populations. Similarly, the regulated, low-level of 
use for educational purpose through placement of cubs or orphaned 
animals into zoos or public display facilities or through public 
viewing is not a threat to populations. Sport harvest of polar bears in 
Canada is discussed in the harvest section below. For purposes of 
population assessment, no distinction is made between harvest uses for 
sport or subsistence purposes. Take associated with defense of life, 
scientific research, illegal take, and other forms of take are 
generally included in harvest management statistics so this section 
also addresses all forms of take including bear-human interactions.
Overview of Harvest
    Polar bears historically have been and continue to be an important 
renewable resource for coastal communities throughout the Arctic 
(Lentfer 1976, p. 209: Amstrup and DeMaster 1988, p. 41; and IUCN 1999, 
p. 257 Table 14.1). Polar bears and polar bear hunting remain an 
important part of indigenous peoples' myths and legends and polar bear 
hunting is a source of pride, prestige, and accomplishment. Polar bears 
provide a source of meat and raw materials for handicrafts, including 
functional clothing such as mittens, boots (mukluks), parka ruffs, and 
pants (Nageak et al. 1988, p.6; Marine Mammal Commission 1995, p. 18).
    Prior to the 1950s, most hunting was by indigenous people for 
subsistence purposes. Increased sport hunting in the 1950s and 1960s, 
however, resulted in population declines (Prestrud and Stirling 1994). 
International concern about the overall status of polar bears resulted 
in biologists from the five polar bear range nations forming the Polar 
Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) within the IUCN Species Survival 
Commission (SSC) structure (IUCN 1999, p. 262). The PBSG was largely 
responsible for the development and ratification of the 1973 
International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (1973 
Agreement) (Prestrud and Stirling 1994, p. 114) (see Section D--
Adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms below for details).
Harvest Management by Nation
Canada
    Canada manages or shares management responsibility for 13 of the 
world's 19 polar bear populations (Kane Basin, Baffin Bay, Davis 
Strait, Foxe Basin, Western Hudson Bay, Southern Hudson Bay, Gulf of 
Boothia, Lancaster Sound, Norwegian Bay, M'Clintock Channel, Viscount 
Melville Sound, Northern Beaufort Sea, and Southern Beaufort Sea) 
Wildlife management is a shared responsibility of the Provincial and 
Territorial governments. The Federal government (Canadian Wildlife 
Service) has an ongoing research program and is involved in management 
of wildlife populations shared with other jurisdictions, especially 
ones with other nations (e.g., where a polar bear stock ranges across 
an international boundary). To facilitate and coordinate management of 
polar bears, Canada has formed the Federal Provincial Technical 
Committee for Polar Bear Research and Management (PBTC) and the Federal 
Provincial Administrative Committee for Polar Bear Research and 
Management (PBAC). These committees include Provincial, Territorial, 
and Federal representatives who meet annually to review research and 
management activities.
    Polar bears are harvested in Canada. All human-caused mortality 
(i.e., hunting, defense of life, and incidental kills) are included in 
a total allowable harvest. Inuit people from communities in Nunavut, 
Northwest Territories (NWT), Manitoba, Labrador, Newfoundland, and 
Quebec conduct hunting. In Ontario, the Cree as well as the Inuit can 
harvest polar bears. In Nunavut and NWT, each community

[[Page 1082]]

obtains an annual harvest quota that is based on the best available 
scientific information and monitored through distribution of harvest 
tags to local hunter groups, who work with scientists to help set 
quotas. Native hunters may use their harvest tags to guide sport hunts. 
The majority of sport hunters in Canada are U.S. citizens, and in 1994 
an amendment to the MMPA was made to allow these hunters to import 
their trophies into the United States if the bears had been taken in a 
legal manner from approved populations.
    The Canadian system has resulted in tight controls on the size of 
harvest and high quality harvest reporting. It allows reduction of 
quotas in response to population declines resulting from over-hunting 
(PBSG 1995, p. 11). In 2004, existing polar bear harvest practices 
became questionable when Nunavut identified quota increases for 8 
populations, 5 of which are shared with other jurisdictions (Lunn et 
al. 2005, p. 3). Quota increases were largely based on indigenous 
knowledge (the Nunavut equivalent of traditional ecological knowledge) 
and the perception that some populations are increasing from historic 
levels. Nunavut did not coordinate these changes with adjacent 
jurisdictions that share management responsibility for populations that 
range between the two jurisdictions. This action resulted in an overall 
increase in the quota from 398 bears in 2003-2004 to 507 bears in 2004-
2005 (Lunn et al. 2005, p. 14, Table 6).
Greenland
    The management of polar bear harvest in Greenland is through a 
system introduced in 1993 that allows only full-time hunters living a 
subsistence lifestyle to hunt polar bears. Licenses are issued annually 
for a small fee contingent upon reporting harvest during the prior 12 
months. Until 2006, no quotas were in place but harvest statistics were 
collected through Piniarneq, a local reporting program (Born and Sonne 
2005 in PBSG 2006, p. 137). In January 2006, a new harvest monitoring 
and quota system was implemented (L[oslash]nstrup 2005 in PBSG 2006, p. 
133). Annual quotas are determined in consideration of international 
agreements, biological advice, user knowledge, and consultation with 
the Hunting Council. Part of the quota may be used for sport hunting 
(L[oslash]nstrup 2005 in PBSG 2006, p. 133).
Norway
    Norway and Russia share jurisdiction over the Barents Sea 
population of polar bears. Management in Norway is the responsibility 
of the Ministry of the Environment (Wiig 1995, p.110). The commercial, 
subsistence or sport hunting of polar bears in Norway is prohibited 
(Wiig 1995, p.110). Bears may only be killed in self-defense, 
protection of property, and ``mercy'' kills and kills must be reported 
and recorded (Gjertz and Scheie 1998, p. 337).
Russia
    The commercial, subsistence or sport hunting of polar bears in 
Russia is prohibited. Some bears are killed in defense of life, and a 
small number of cubs are taken annually for zoos. Despite the 1956 ban 
on hunting polar bears in Russia, illegal harvest is occurring in the 
Chukchi Sea region and elsewhere where there is limited monitoring or 
enforcement of this prohibition (PBSG 1995, p. 9; Belikov et al. 2005 
in PBSG 2006, p. 153). There is also a significant interest in re-
opening a subsistence hunt by indigenous people in Russia. The combined 
ongoing illegal hunting in Russia and legal subsistence harvest in 
Alaska is a concern for the Chukchi Sea polar bear population, which 
may be in decline (USFWS 2003, p.1). Full implementation of the 
Agreement between the United States of America and the Russian 
Federation on the Conservation and Management of the Alaska-Chukotka 
Polar Bear Population (Bilateral Agreement) is attended to rectify this 
situation, but such implementation has not yet occurred (Schliebe et 
al. 2005 in PBSG 2006, p. 75). Accordingly, we have not relied on 
implementation of the Bilateral Agreement in our assessment of the 
threat of overutilization to polar bears. (see International Agreements 
and Oversight section below).
United States
    Polar bear subsistence hunting has been done by Alaska Natives for 
centuries (Lentfer 1976, p. 209). Polar bear hunting and the commercial 
sale of skins took on increasing economic importance to Alaskan Natives 
when whaling began in the 1850s (Lentfer 1976, p. 209) Trophy hunting 
using aircraft began in the late 1940s. In the 1960s, State of Alaska 
hunting regulations became more restrictive, and in 1972 aircraft-
assisted hunting was stopped altogether (Lentfer 1976, p. 209). Between 
1954 and 1972, an average of 222 polar bears was harvested per year, 
resulting in a decline in polar bear populations in Alaska (Amstrup et 
al.1986, p. 246).
    Passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972 
established a prohibition on the sport or commercial hunting of polar 
bears in Alaska. However, within the MMPA a provision allows for 
continued harvest of polar bears by coastal dwelling Alaska Natives for 
subsistence and handicraft purposes. The MMPA also prohibits the 
commercial sale of any marine mammal parts or products except those 
that have been significantly altered into handicrafts or clothing by 
Alaska Natives. Currently, the subsistence harvest of polar bears by 
Alaska Natives, provided it is conducted in a non-wasteful manner, 
cannot be restricted unless a population is designated as depleted 
(i.e., below the optimum sustainable population level). The ability to 
avoid depletion through cooperative management agreements between 
Alaska Native Organizations and the Service to regulate subsistence 
take is an amendment to the MMPA that has been proposed, yet remains to 
be adopted. The Service cooperates with the Alaska Nanuuq Commission, a 
non-profit organization that represents interests of Alaska Native 
polar bear users, to address polar bear subsistence harvest issues. In 
addition, for the Southern Beaufort Sea population, hunting is 
regulated voluntarily and effectively through an agreement between the 
Inuvialuit of Canada and the Inupiat of Alaska (Brower et al 2002) (see 
International Agreements and Oversight section below). The harvest is 
monitored by the Service's marking and tagging program. Illegal take or 
trade is monitored by the Service's law enforcement program.
    The MMPA was amended in 1994 to provide for the import into the 
United States of sport-hunted polar bear trophies legally taken by the 
importer in Canada. Prior to approving a polar bear population for 
import of such trophies, the Service must find that Canada has a 
monitored and enforced sport-hunting program consistent with the 1973 
Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (1973 Polar Bear 
Agreement) and that the program is based on scientifically sound quotas 
ensuring the maintenance of the population at a sustainable level. 
Currently, six populations are approved for import of polar bears 
trophies (62 FR 7302, February 18, 1997; 64 FR 1529, January 11, 1999; 
66 FR 50843, October 5, 2001).
Harvest Summary
    A thorough review and evaluation of past and current harvest, 
including other forms of removal, for all populations has been 
described in the Polar Bear Status Assessment (Schliebe et al. 2006a). 
The Status Assessment is available on the Service's Marine

[[Page 1083]]

Mammal Web site located at: http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm. Table 2 provides a summary of harvest statistics 
from the populations and is included herein as a reference. The total 
harvest and other forms of removal were considered in the summary 
analysis.
    Five populations (including four that are hunted) have no estimate 
of potential risk from overharvest, since adequate demographic 
information necessary to conduct a population viability analysis and 
risk assessment are not available (Table 1). For one of the 
populations, Chukchi Sea, severe overharvest was suspected to have 
occurred during the past 10-15 years, and anecdotal information was 
that the trend of population size was believed to be in decline (Aars 
et al. 2006, pp. 34-35). The Chukchi Sea, Baffin Bay, Kane Basin and 
Western Hudson Bay populations may be being overharvested (Aars et al. 
2006, pp. 40, 44-46). In other populations, including East Greenland 
and Davis Strait, substantial harvest occurs annually in the absence of 
scientifically-derived population estimates (Aars et al. 2006, pp. 39, 
46). Considerable debate has occurred regarding the recent changes in 
population estimates based on indigenous or local knowledge (Aars et 
al. 2006, p. 57) and subsequent quota increases for some populations in 
Nunavut (Lunn et al. 2005, p. 20). Increased polar bear observations 
along the coast may be attributed to changes in bear distribution due 
to lack of suitable ice habitat rather than to increased population 
size (Stirling and Parkinson 2006). Additional inventories are needed 
to reconcile these differing interpretations.

[[Page 1084]]



                                                                               Table 2.--Polar Bear Harvest Statistics, Adapted From the PBTC Status Table
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                       Aerial survey/M-R                5 yr mean kill                  3 yr mean kill                  1 yr mean kill
                               --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------   Identified       Estimated
          Population                                                             Likelihood of                   Likelihood of                   Likelihood of     permitted        maximum         Observed or            Status e
                                 Number  (year   2      Actual      decline  (next      Actual      decline  (next      Actual      decline  (next     harvest b      sustainable    predicted trend d
                                 of  estimate)        SE           removals       10 years) a      removals       10 years) a      removals       10 years) a                       yield c
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Southern Beaufort Sea.........  1500 (2006)...  1000-2000.....  57.8..........  No Estimate...  59.3..........  No Estimate...  44............  No Estimate...  81............  84............  Decline............  Reduced.
Northern Beaufort Sea.........  1200 (1986)...  133-2097......  36.2..........  No Estimate...  38............  No Estimate...  36............  No Estimate...  65............  56............  Stable.............  Not reduced.
Viscount Melville.............  161 (1992)....  121-201.......  4.4...........  5.6%..........  4.7...........  6.5%..........  5.............  6.8%..........  7.............  10............  Increase...........  Severely reduced.
Norwegian Bay.................  190 (1998)....  102-278.......  2.6...........  70.5%.........  2.7...........  73.1%.........  4.............  84.4%.........  4.............  9.............  Decline............  Not reduced.
Lancaster Sound...............  2541 (1998)...  1759-3323.....  74............  67.0%.........  79............  74.0%.........  87............  80.6%.........  85............  119...........  Stable.............  Not reduced.
M'Clintock Channel............  284 (2000)....  166-402.......  3.............  2.5%..........  1.............  1.0%..........  2.............  1.8%..........  3.............  13............  Increase...........  Severely reduced.
Gulf of Boothia...............  1528 (2000)...  953-2093......  45.8..........  3.3%..........  48.3..........  4.3%..........  66............  12.9%.........  74............  72............  Increase...........  Not reduced.
Foxe Basin....................  2197 (1994)...  1677-2717.....  97.2..........  14.0%.........  96............  12.1%.........  97............  13.1%.........  106 + Quebec..  108...........  Stable.............  Not reduced.
Western Hudson Bay............  935 (2004)....  791-1079......  44.8..........  99.9%.........  46.3..........  99.9%.........  43............  99.9%.........  62............  44............  Decline............  Reduced.
Southern Hudson Bay...........  1000 (1988)...  784-1216......  36.6..........  0.1%..........  36.7..........  0.1%..........  27............  0.1%..........  25 + Ontario,   47............  Increase?..........  Not reduced.
                                                                                                                                                                 Quebec.
Kane Basin....................  164 (1998)....  94-234........  10.8..........  99.9%.........  10.3..........  99.9%.........  11............  99.9%.........  5 + Greenland.  8.............  Decline............  Reduced.
Baffin Bay....................  2074 (1988)...  1544-2604.....  216.8.........  99.9%.........  251.7.........  99.9%.........  252...........  99.9%.........  105 +           72............  Decline............  Reduced.
                                                                                                                                                                 Greenland.
Davis Strait..................  ..............  ..............  64.8..........  12.9%.........  67.3..........  17.1%.........  70............  18.9%.........  46 +            77............  Stable.............  Not reduced.
                                                                                                                                                                 Greenland,
                                                                                                                                                                 Quebec,
                                                                                                                                                                 Labrador.
East Greenland................  Unknown.......  ..............  70............  No Estimate...  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  50............  No Estimate...  Data Deficient.....  Data Deficient.
Barents Sea...................  3000 (2004)...  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  Data Deficient.....  Data Deficient.
Kara Sea......................  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  Data Deficient.....  Data Deficient.
Laptev Sea....................  800-1200        ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............  Data Deficient.....  Data Deficient.
                                 (1993).
Chukchi Sea...................  2000 (1993)...  ..............  43-AK. Unk      No Estimate...  Unknown.......  No Estimate...  43++..........  No Estimate...  Unknown.......  Unknown.......  Data Deficient.....  Data Deficient.
                                                                  in
                                                                 Chukotka.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ Presented is the proportion of simulation runs using the RISKMAN model and vital rates presented in natural survival and recruitment tables resulting in any decline after 10 years of simulation, assuming minimum 2M:1F in the
  harvest. One-minus this value represents the proportion of simulations resulting in population increase.
\b\ The identified permitted harvest includes the maximum harvest that is presently allowed by jurisdictions with an identified quota.
\c\ The estimated maximum sustainable yield (MSY) is based on a meta-analysis of the 1990s that assumed mean reproduction and survival for polar bears across their range in Canada (given information available at the time). MSY = N *
  0.0156/Pr[F], where N = total population number, 0.0156 is a constant derived from a meta-analysis to estimate survival and recruitment rates for Canadian polar bears, and Pr[F] = proportion of the harvest that is female (assumed
  to be 0.333, i.e., 2M:1F sex-selective harvest).
\d\ Observed or predicted status as suggested by PVA results and, where vital rates are not sufficient for analysis, anectodatal information.
\e\ Current status relative to probable historic numbers.


[[Page 1085]]

Bear-Human Interactions
    Polar bears come into conflict with humans when they scavenge for 
food at sites of human habitation, and also because they occasionally 
prey or attempt to prey upon humans (Stirling 1988, p.182). ``Problem 
bears'' are most often sub-adults, because they are inexperienced 
hunters and because their feeding habits include more scavenging than 
adult bears (Stirling 1988, p. 182). Following sub-adults, females with 
cubs are most likely to interact with humans, because females with cubs 
are likely to be thinner and hungrier than single adult bears, and 
starving bears are more likely to interact with humans in their pursuit 
of food (Stirling 1988, p. 182). For example, in Churchill, Manitoba, 
Canada, an area of high polar bear use generally, the occurrence of 
females with cubs feeding at the town's garbage dump in the fall 
increased during years when bears came ashore in poorer condition 
(Stirling 1988, p. 182). Other factors that may influence bear-human 
encounters include increased land use activities, increased human 
populations in areas of high polar bear activity, increased polar bear 
population size, and earlier polar bear departure from ice habitat to 
terrestrial habitats.
    Increased interactions and defense kills may occur under predicted 
climate change scenarios (Derocher et al. 2004, p.169). Direct 
interactions between people and bears in Alaska have increased markedly 
in recent years and this trend is expected to continue (Amstrup 2000, 
p. 153). Since the late 1990s, the timing of complete ice formation in 
the fall has occurred later in November or early December than it 
formerly did (which was in September and October), resulting in an 
increased amount of time polar bears spend on land, which consequently 
increases the probability of bear-human interactions occurring in 
coastal villages. Adaptive management programs focusing on the 
development of community or ecotourism based polar bear-human 
interaction plans that include polar bear patrols, deterrent and hazing 
programs, efforts to manage and minimize sources of attraction, and 
programs to educate residents of polar bear behavior and ecology are 
needed and should be developed in the future.
Conclusion for Factor B
    Polar bears are harvested in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia. 
Active harvest management programs are in place for populations in 
Canada, Greenland, and Alaska. Principles of sustainable yield are 
instituted through harvest quotas or guidelines; other forms of 
removal, such as for defense of life, are considered through management 
actions by the responsible jurisdictions. Hunting or killing polar 
bears is illegal in Russia although an unknown level of harvest occurs. 
While overharvest occurs for some populations, laws and regulations for 
most management programs have been instituted to ensure harvests result 
in healthy and sustainable populations. These actions are largely 
viewed as having been successful in reversing wide spread overharvests 
by many jurisdictions that resulted in population depletion during the 
period prior to signing of the multi-lateral 1973 Agreement on the 
Conservation of Polar Bears (Prestrud and Stirling 1994) (Discussed 
further in Factor D). For the internationally-shared populations in the 
Chukchi Sea, Baffin Bay, Kane Basin, and Davis Strait, conservation 
agreements have been developed (United States-Russia) or are in 
development (Canada-Greenland). These agreements have not yet been 
implemented and therefore are not being relied upon in our evaluation 
of Factor B.
    We conclude that harvest, increased bear-human interaction levels, 
defense of life take, illegal take, and take associated with scientific 
research programs are occurring regionally for some populations. 
However, we find that overutilization as a singular factor does not 
threaten the species throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. Continued harvest and increased mortality from bear-human 
encounters or other forms of mortality, however, may become a more 
significant threat factor in the future for polar bear populations 
experiencing nutritional stress or declining population numbers as a 
consequence of habitat change. The PBSG 2006 (Aars et al. 2006) through 
resolution urged that a precautionary approach be instituted when 
setting harvest limits in a warming Arctic. Continued efforts are 
necessary to ensure that harvest or other forms of removal do not 
exceed sustainable levels and thus do not threaten the species in the 
foreseeable future.

C. Disease and Predation

Disease
    Except for the presence of trichinella larvae, the occurrence of 
diseases and parasites in polar bears is rare compared to other bears. 
Trichinella has been documented in polar bears throughout their range 
and although infestations can be quite high they are normally not fatal 
(Rausch 1970, p. 360; Dick and Belosevic 1978, p. 1143; Larsen and 
Kjos-Hanssen 1983, p. 95; Taylor et al. 1985, p. 303; Forbes 2000, p. 
321). Although rabies is commonly found in Arctic foxes, there has been 
only one confirmed instance of rabies in polar bears (Taylor et al. 
1991, p. 337). Morbillivirus has been documented in polar bears from 
Alaska and Russia (Garner et al. 2000, p. 477; C. Kirk, University of 
Alaska, Fairbanks, pers. comm. 2006). Antibodies to the protozoan 
parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, were found in Alaskan polar bears; 
however, it is not known if this is a health concern for polar bears 
(C. Kirk, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, pers. comm. 2006).
    It is unknown whether polar bears are more susceptible to new 
pathogens due to their lack of previous exposure to disease and 
parasites. Many different pathogens and viruses have been found in seal 
species that are polar bear prey (Duignan et al. 1997, p. 7; Measures 
and Olson 1999, p. 779; Dubey et al. 2003, p. 278; Hughes-Hanks et al. 
2005, p. 1226), so the potential exists for transmission of these 
diseases to bears. As polar bears become more stressed, they may eat 
more of the intestines and internal organs than they do presently, thus 
increasing their potential exposure to parasites and viruses (Derocher 
et al. 2004, p. 170; Amstrup et al. 2006b, p. 3). In addition, 
pathogens may expand their range northward from more southerly areas 
under projected climate change scenarios (Harvell et al. 2002, p. 60).
Intraspecific Predation
    Intraspecific killing has been reported among all North American 
bear species (Derocher and Wiig 1999, p. 307; Amstrup et al. 2006, p. 
1). Reasons for intraspecific predation in bear species is poorly 
understood but thought to include population regulation, nutrition, and 
enhanced breeding opportunities in the case of predation of cubs. 
Although infanticide by male polar bears has been well documented 
(Hansson and Thomassen 1983, p. 248; Larsen 1985, p. 325; Taylor et al. 
1985, p. 304; Derocher and Wiig 1999, p. 307), it is thought that this 
activity accounts for a small percentage of the cub mortality.
    Cannibalism has also been documented in polar bears (Derocher and 
Wiig 1999, p. 307; Amstrup et al. 2006b, p. 1). Amstrup et al. (2006b, 
p. 1) observed three instances of cannibalism in the southern Beaufort 
Sea during the spring of 2004 involving two adult females--one an 
unusual mortality of a female in a den and another a yearling. This is 
notable because, throughout a combined 58

[[Page 1086]]

years of research, there are no similar observations. Active stalking 
or hunting preceded the attacks, and both of the killed bears were 
eaten. Adult males were believed to be the predator in both attacks. 
Amstrup et al. (2006b, p. 3) indicated that in general a greater 
portion of polar bears in the area where the predation occurred were in 
poor physical condition compared to other years. The authors 
hypothesized that changes would be expected to occur first in more 
southerly areas, due to significant ice retreat (Skinner et al.1988, p. 
3; Comiso and Parkinson 2004, p. 43; Stroeve et al. 2005, p. 1). Adult 
males may be the first to show the effects of nutritional stress since 
they feed little during the spring mating season and enter the summer 
in poorer condition than other sex/age classes. Derocher and Wiig (1999 
p. 308) documented a similar intra-specific killing and consumption of 
another polar bear in Svalbard, Norway, which was attributed to 
relatively high population densities and food shortages. Taylor et al. 
(1985, p. 304) documented that a malnourished female killed and 
consumed her own cubs, and Lunn and Stenhouse (1985, p. 1516) found an 
emaciated male consuming an adult female polar bear.
    The potential importance of cannibalism and infanticide for polar 
bear population regulation is unknown. However, given our current 
knowledge of disease and predation, we do not believe that these 
factors are currently having population level effects.
Conclusion for Factor C
    Although disease pathogen titers are present in polar bears, no 
epizootic outbreaks have been detected. Although there are limited 
indications that intraspecific stress through cannibalism may be 
increasing, population level effects are not believed to have resulted. 
We find that disease and predation (including intraspecific predation) 
do not threaten the species throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range. Potential for disease outbreaks or increased mortality from 
cannibalism warrants continued monitoring and may become a more 
significant threat factor in the future for polar bear populations 
experiencing nutritional stress or declining population numbers.

D. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Regulatory mechanisms directed specifically at managing threats to 
polar bears exist in all of the range states where the species occurs, 
as well as between (bilateral and multilateral) range states. There are 
no known regulatory mechanisms effectively addressing reductions in sea 
ice habitat at this time.

International Agreements

International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears
    Canada, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), Norway, the Russian 
Federation, and the United States are parties to the Agreement on the 
Conservation of Polar Bears (1973 Polar Bear Agreement) singed in 1973; 
by 1978 the Agreement was ratified by all parties. The 1973 Polar Bear 
Agreement requires the parties to take appropriate action to protect 
the ecosystem of which polar bears are a part, with special attention 
to habitat components such as denning and feeding sites and migration 
patterns, and to manage polar bear populations in accordance with sound 
conservation practices based on the best available scientific data. The 
1973 Polar Bear Agreement relies on the efforts of each party to 
implement conservation programs and does not preclude a party from 
establishing additional controls (Lentfer 1974, p.1).
    The 1973 Polar Bear Agreement is viewed as a success in that polar 
bear populations recovered from excessive harvests and severe 
population reductions in many areas (Prestrud and Stirling 1994). At 
the same time, implementation of the terms of the 1973 Polar Bear 
Agreement vary across the member parties. Efforts are needed to improve 
current harvest management practices, such as restricting harvest of 
females and cubs, establishing sustainable harvest limits, and 
controlling illegal harvests (PBSG 1998, pp. 47-48). In addition, a 
lack of protection of key habitats by member parties, with few notable 
exceptions for some denning areas, is a weakness (Prestrud and Stirling 
1994, p. 118).
IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group
    As previously mentioned, the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) 
operates under the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). The PBSG was 
formed in 1968 and contributed to the negotiation and development of 
the 1973 Polar Bear Agreement. The PBSG meets periodically at 3-to 5-
year intervals in compliance with Article VII of the 1973 Polar Bear 
Agreement; said article instructs member parties to conduct national 
research programs on polar bears, particularly research relating to the 
conservation and management of the species and, as appropriate, 
coordinate such research with the research carried out by other 
parties, consult with other parties on management of migrating polar 
bear populations, and exchange information on research and management 
programs, research results, and data on bears taken. The PBSG first 
evaluated the status of all polar bear populations in 1980. In 1993, 
1997, and 2001 the PBSG conducted circumpolar status assessments of 
polar bear populations, and the results of those assesments were 
published as part of the proceedings of the relevant PBSG meeting. The 
PBSG conducted its fifth polar bear status assessment in June 2005.
    The PBSG also evaluates the status of polar bears under the IUCN 
Red List criteria. Previously, polar bears were classified under the 
IUCN Red List program as: ``Less rare but believed to be threatened-
requires watching'' (1965); ``Vulnerable'' (1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, 
1994); and ``Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent'' (1996). During the 
2005 PBSG working group meeting the PBSG re-evaluated the status of 
polar bears and unanimously agreed that a status designation of 
``Vulnerable'' was warranted. The PBSG based this reevaluation on 
projected changes in sea ice on polar bear distribution and condition 
including effects on reproduction and survival.
Inupiat-Inuvialuit Agreement for the Management of Polar Bears of the 
Southern Beaufort Sea
    In January 1988, the Inuvialuit of Canada and the Inupiat of 
Alaska, groups that both harvest polar bears for cultural and 
subsistence purposes, signed a management agreement for polar bears of 
the southern Beaufort Sea. This agreement, based on the understanding 
that the two groups harvested animals from a single population shared 
across the international boundary, provides a joint responsibility for 
conservation and harvest practices (Treseder and Carpenter 1989, p. 4; 
Nageak et al. 1991, p. 341). Provisions of the agreement include: 
annual quotas (which may include problem kills); hunting seasons; 
protection of bears in dens or while constructing dens, and protection 
of females accompanied by cubs and yearlings; collection of specimens 
from killed bears to facilitate monitoring of the sex and age 
composition of the harvest; agreement to meet annually to exchange 
information on research and management and to set priorities; to agree 
on quotas for the coming year; and prohibition of hunting with aircraft 
or large motorized vessels and of trade in products taken in violation 
of the agreement. In Canada, recommendations and decisions from the 
Commissioners are then implemented through

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Community Polar Bear Management Agreements, Inuvialuit Settlement 
Region Community Bylaws, and NWT Big Game Regulations; in the United 
States this agreement is implemented at the local level. There are no 
Federal, state, or local regulations that limit the number or type 
(male, female, cub) of polar bear that may be taken. Adherence to the 
agreement's terms in Alaska is voluntary, and levels of compliance may 
vary. However, Brower et al. (2002) analyzed the overall effectiveness 
of this agreement and found that it had been successful in maintaining 
the total harvest and the proportion of females in the harvest within 
sustainable levels. The authors noted the need to improve harvest 
monitoring in Alaska and increase awareness of the need to prevent 
overharvest of females for both countries.
Agreement Between the United States of America and the Russian 
Federation on the Conservation and Management of the Alaska-Chukotka 
Polar Bear Population
    On October 16, 2000, the United States and the Russian Federation 
signed a bilateral agreement for the conservation and management of 
polar bear populations shared between the two countries. The Agreement 
between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on the 
Conservation and Management of the Alaska-Chukotka Polar Bear 
Population (Bilateral Agreement) expands upon the progress made through 
the multilateral 1973 Polar Bear Agreement by implementing a unified 
conservation program for this shared population. The Bilateral 
Agreement reiterates requirements of the 1973 Polar Bear Agreement and 
includes restrictions on harvesting denning bears, females with cubs or 
cubs less than one year old, and prohibitions on the use of aircraft, 
large motorized vessels, and snares or poison for hunting polar bears. 
The Bilateral Agreement does not allow hunting for commercial purposes 
or commercial uses of polar bears or their parts. It also commits the 
parties to the conservation of ecosystems and important habitats, with 
a focus on conserving polar bear habitats such as feeding, 
congregating, and denning areas. The Russian government has indicated 
that it is prepared to implement the Bilateral Agreement. On December 
9, 2006, the Congress of the United States passed the ``United States--
Russia Polar Bear Conservation and management Act of 2006.'' This Act 
provides the necessary authority to regulate and manage the harvest of 
polar bears from the Chukchi Sea population, an essential conservation 
measure. However, the Act does not provide authority or mechanisms to 
address ongoing loss of sea ice.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild 
Fauna and Flora
    The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild 
Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a treaty aimed at protecting species at risk 
from international trade. CITES regulates international trade in 
animals and plants by listing species in one of its three appendices. 
The level of monitoring and control to which an animal or plant species 
is subject depends on which appendix the species is listed in. Appendix 
I includes species threatened with extinction which are or may be 
affected by trade; trade of Appendix I species is only allowed in 
exceptional circumstances. Appendix II includes species not necessarily 
now threatened with extinction, but for which trade must be regulated 
in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. 
Appendix III includes species that are subject to regulation in at 
least one country, and for which that country has asked other CITES 
Party countries for assistance in controlling and monitoring 
international trade in that species.
    Polar bears were listed in Appendix II of CITES on July 7, 1975. As 
such, CITES parties must determine, among other things, that any polar 
bear, polar bear part, or product made from polar bear was legally 
obtained and that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of 
the species, prior to issuing a permit authorizing the export of the 
animal, part or product. The CITES does not itself regulate take or 
domestic trade of polar bears, however, through its process of 
monitoring trade in wildlife species and requisite findings prior to 
allowing international movement of listed species and monitoring 
programs, the CITES is effective in ensuring the international movement 
of listed species does not contribute to the detriment of wildlife 
populations. All polar bear range states are members to the CITES and 
have in place the Convention required Scientific Management 
Authorities. The Service therefore has determined that the CITES is 
effective in regulating the trade in polar bear, or polar bear parts or 
products, and provides conservation measures to minimize the threats to 
the species.
Mechanisms To Regulate Sea Ice Recession
    Regulatory mechanisms directed specifically at managing threats to 
polar bears exist in all of the range states where the species occurs, 
as well as between (bilateral and multilateral) range states. There are 
no known regulatory mechanisms effectively addressing reductions in sea 
ice habitat at this time.

Domestic Regulatory Mechanisms

United States
Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as Amended
    The MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) was enacted in response to 
growing concerns among scientists and the general public that certain 
species and populations of marine mammals were in danger of extinction 
or depletion as a result of human activities. The goal of the MMPA is 
to protect and conserve marine mammals so that they continue to be 
significant functioning elements of the ecosystem of which they are a 
part. The MMPA set forth a national policy to prevent marine mammal 
species or population stocks from diminishing to the point where they 
are no longer a significant functioning element of the ecosystems.
    The MMPA places an emphasis on habitat and ecosystem protection. 
The habitat and ecosystem goals set forth in the MMPA include: (1) 
Management of marine mammals (inclusion of polar bears) to ensure they 
do not cease to be a significant element of the ecosystem to which they 
are a part; (2) protection of essential habitats, including rookeries, 
mating grounds, and areas of similar significance ``from the adverse 
effects of man's action;'' (3) recognition that marine mammals ``affect 
the balance of marine ecosystems in a manner that is important to other 
animals and animal products'' and that marine mammals and their 
habitats should therefore be protected and conserved; and (4) directing 
that the primary objective of marine mammal management is to maintain 
``the health and stability of the marine ecosystem.'' Congressional 
intent to protect marine mammal habitat is also reflected in the 
definitions section of the MMPA. The terms ``conservation'' and 
``management'' of marine mammals are specifically defined to include 
habitat acquisition and improvement.
    The MMPA includes a general moratorium on the taking and importing 
of marine mammals, which is subject to a number of exceptions. Some of 
these exceptions include take for scientific purposes, for purpose of 
public display, subsistence use by Alaska Natives, and unintentional 
incidental take coincident with conducting lawful activities. The 
Service, prior to issuing a permit

[[Page 1088]]

authorizing the taking or importing of a polar bear, or a polar bear 
part or product, for scientific or public display purposes submits each 
request to a rigorous review, including an opportunity for public 
comment and consultation with the U.S. Marine Mammal Commision, as 
described at 50 CFR 18.31. In addition, in 1994, Congress amended the 
MMPA to allow for the import of polar bear trophies taken in Canada for 
personal use providing certain requirements are met. Import permits may 
only be issued to U.S. hunters for trophies they have legally taken 
from those Canadian polar bear populations the Service has approved as 
meeting the MMPA requirements, as described at 50 CFR 18.30. The 
Service has determined that there is sufficient rigor under the 
regulations at 50 CFR 18.30 and 18.31 to ensure that any activities so 
authorized are consistent with the conservation of this species and are 
not a threat to the species.
    Take is defined in the MMPA to include the ``harassment'' of marine 
mammals. ``Harassment'' includes any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which ``has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine 
mammal stock in the wild'' (Level A harassment), or ``has the potential 
to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by 
causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including but not limited 
to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering'' 
(Level B harassment).
    The Secretaries of Commerce and of the Interior have primary 
responsibility for implementing the MMPA. The Department of Commerce, 
through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has 
authority with respect to whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. The 
remaining marine mammals, including polar bears, walruses, and sea 
otters, are managed by the Department of the Interior through the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service. Both agencies are ``* * * responsible for 
the promulgation of regulations, the issuance of permits, the conduct 
of scientific research, and enforcement as necessary to carry out the 
purposes of [the MMPA]''.
    U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity other than 
commercial fishing (which is specifically and separately addressed 
under the MMPA) within a specified geographical region may petition the 
Secretary of the Interior to authorize the incidental, but not 
intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals within that 
region for a period of not more than five consecutive years (16 U.S.C. 
1371(a)(5)(A)). The Secretary ``shall allow'' the incidental taking if 
the Secretary finds that ``the total of such taking during each five-
year (or less) period concerned will have a negligible impact on such 
species or stock and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of such species or stock for taking for subsistence uses * 
* *''. If the Secretary makes the required findings, the Secretary also 
prescribes regulations that specify (1) Permissible methods of taking, 
(2) means of affecting the least practicable adverse impact on the 
species, their habitat, and their availability for subsistence uses, 
and (3) requirements for monitoring and reporting. The regulatory 
process does not authorize the activities themselves, but authorizes 
the incidental take of the marine mammals in conjunction with otherwise 
legal activities described within the regulations.
    Similar to promulgation of incidental take regulations, the MMPA 
also established an expedited process by which citizens of the United 
States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small 
numbers of marine mammals where the take will be limited to harassment 
(16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(D)). These authorizations are limited to one-year 
and as with incidental take regulations the Secretary must find that 
the total of such taking during the period will have a negligible 
impact on such species or stock and will not have an unmitigable 
adverse impact on the availability of such species or stock for taking 
for subsistence uses. The Service refers to these authorizations as 
Incidental Harassment Authorizations.
    Examples and descriptions of how the Service has analyzed the 
effects of oil and gas activities and applied the general provisions of 
the MMPA described above to polar bear conservation programs in the 
Beaufort and Chukchi seas follows. These regulations include an 
evaluation of the cumulative effects of oil and gas industry activities 
on polar bears from noise, physical obstructions, human encounters, and 
oil spills. The likelihood of an oil spill occurring and the risk to 
polar bears is modeled quantitatively and factored into the evaluation. 
The results of previous industry monitoring programs, and the 
effectiveness of past detection and deterrent programs that have a 
beneficial record of protecting polar bears as well as providing for 
the safety of oil field workers are also considered. Based on the low 
likelihood of an oil spill occurring and the effectiveness of industry 
mitigation measures within the Beaufort Sea region, the Service has 
found that oil and gas industry activities have not affected the rates 
of recruitment or survival for the polar bear populations.
    General operating conditions in specific authorizations include the 
following: (1) Protection of pregnant polar bears during denning 
activities (den selection, birthing, and maturation of cubs) in known 
and confirmed denning areas; (2) restrictions on industrial activities, 
areas, time of year; and (3) development of a site-specific plan of 
operation and a site-specific polar bear interaction plan. Additional 
requirements may included: pre-activity surveys (e.g., aerial surveys, 
infra-red thermal aerial surveys, or polar bear scent-trained dogs) to 
determine the presence or absence of dens or denning activity and, in 
known denning areas enhanced monitoring or flight restrictions, such as 
minimum flight elevations. These and other safeguards and coordination 
with industry have served to minimize industry effects on polar bears.
National Environmental Policy Act
    The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires Federal 
agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their proposed 
actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet this 
requirement, Federal agencies conduct environmental reviews, including 
Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Assessments. NEPA does 
not itself regulate polar bears, but it does require full evaluation 
and disclosure of information regarding the effects of contemplated 
Federal actions on polar bears and their habitat.
Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
    The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (43 U.S.C. 331 et seq.) 
(OCSLA) established Federal jurisdiction over submerged lands on the 
Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) seaward of the State boundaries (3-mile 
limit) in order to expedite exploration and development of oil/gas 
resources on the OCS. Implementation of OCSLA is delegated to the 
Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the Department of the Interior. 
OCS projects that could adversely impact the Coastal Zone are subject 
to Federal consistency requirements under terms of the Coastal Zone 
Management Act, as noted below. OCSLA also mandates that orderly 
development of OCS energy resources be balanced with protection of 
human, marine and coastal environments. The OCSLA does not itself 
regulate the take of polar bears, although through

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consistency determinations it helps to ensure that OCS projects do not 
adversely impact polar bears or their habitats.
Coastal Zone Management Act
    The Coastal Zone Management Act [16 U.S.C. 1451 et seq.) (CZMA) was 
enacted to ``preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore 
or enhance the resources of the Nation's coastal zone.'' The CZMA is a 
State program subject to Federal approval. The CZMA requires that 
Federal actions be conducted in a manner consistent with the State's 
CZM plan to the maximum extent practicable. Federal agencies planning 
or authorizing an activity that affects any land or water use or 
natural resource of the coastal zone must provide a consistency 
determination to the appropriate State agency. The CZMA applies to 
polar bear habitats of northern and western Alaska. The North Slope 
Borough and Alaska Coastal Management Programs assist in protection of 
polar bear habitat through the project review process. The CZMA does 
not itself regulate the take of polar bears.
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
    The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. 3101 
et seq.) (ANILCA) created or expanded National Parks and Refuges in 
Alaska, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). One of the 
establishing purposes of the Arctic NWR is to conserve polar bears. 
Most of the Arctic NWR is Federally designated Wilderness, and is 
therefore off limits to oil and gas development. The coastal plain of 
Arctic NWR (Section 1002 of ANILCA designated lands), which provides 
important polar bear denning habitat, does not have Wilderness status; 
oil and gas development could be authorized by an Act of Congress. The 
ANILCA does not itself regulate the take of polar bears, although 
through its designations has provided recognition and various levels of 
protection for polar bear habitat. ANILCA also designated other lands 
for management by other Federal agencies. In the case of polar bear 
habitat, the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for vast land 
areas on the north slope including the National Petroleum Reserve, 
Alaska (NPRA). Habitat suitable for polar bear denning and den sites 
have been identified within NPRA. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 
considers fish and wildlife values under its multiple use mission in 
evaluating land use authorizations and prospective oil and gas leasing 
actions. Provisions of the MMPA regarding the incidental take of polar 
bears on land areas within U.S. jurisdiction continue to apply to 
activities conducted by the oil and gas industry on BLM lands.
Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act
    The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (33 U.S.C. 1401 
et seq.) (MPRSA) was enacted in part to ``prevent or strictly limit the 
dumping into ocean waters of any material that would adversely affect 
human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, 
ecological systems, or economic potentialities.'' The MPRSA does not 
itself regulate the take of polar bears, although it operates to 
protect the quality of marine habitats that polar bears rely upon.
Canada
    Canada's constitutional arrangement specifies that the Provinces 
and Territories have the authority to manage terrestrial wildlife, 
including the polar bear, which is not defined as a marine mammal in 
Canada. The Canadian Federal Government is responsible for CITES-
related programs and provides both technical (long-term demographic, 
ecosystem, and inventory research) and administrative (Federal/
Provincial Polar Bear Technical Committee, Federal/Provincial Polar 
Bear Administrative Committee, and the National Database) support to 
the Provinces and Territories. The Provinces and Territories have the 
ultimate authority for management, although in several areas, the 
decision-making process is shared with aboriginal groups as part of the 
settlement of land claims. Regulated hunting by aboriginal people is 
permissible under Provincial and Territorial statutes (Derocher et al. 
1998, p. 32) as described in Factor B.
    In Manitoba most denning areas have been protected by inclusion 
within the boundaries of Wapusk National Park. In Ontario, some denning 
habitat and coastal summer sanctuary habitat are included in Polar Bear 
Provincial Park. Some polar bear habitat is included in the National 
Parks and National Park Reserves and territorial parks in the Northwest 
Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon Territory (e.g., Herschel Island). 
Additional habitat protection measures in Manitoba include restrictions 
on harassment and approaching dens and denning bears, and a land use 
permit review that considers potential impacts of land use activities 
on wildlife (Derocher et al. 1998, p. 35).
Canada's Species at Risk Act
    Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA) became law on December 12, 
2002, and went into effect on June 1, 2004 (Walton 2004, p. M1-17). 
Prior to SARA, Canada's oversight of species at risk was conducted 
through the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 
(COSEWIC) which continued to function under SARA and through the 
Ministry of Environment. The Committee evaluates species status and 
provides recommendations to the Minister of the Environment, who makes 
final listing decisions and identifies species-specific management 
actions. SARA provides a number of protections for wildlife species 
placed on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, or ``Schedule 1'' (SARA 
Registry 2005). The listing criteria used by COSEWIC are based on the 
2001 IUCN Red List assessment criteria (Appendix 3). Currently, the 
polar bear is designated as a Schedule 3 species, ``Species of Special 
Concern,'' awaiting re-assessment and public consultation for possible 
up-listing to Schedule 1 (Environment Canada 2005). A schedule 3 
listing under SARA does not include protection measures. A schedule 1 
listing under SARA may include protection measures.
Intra-Jurisdiction Polar Bear Agreements Within Canada
    Polar bears occur in the Northwest Territories (NWT), Nunavut, 
Yukon Territory, and in the Provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, 
Newfoundland, and Labrador (see Figure 1). All 12 Canadian polar bear 
populations lie within or are shared with the NWT or Nunavut. The NWT 
and Nunavut geographical boundaries include all Canadian lands and 
marine environment north of the 60th parallel (except the Yukon 
Territory), and all islands and waters in Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait 
up to the low water mark of Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. The offshore 
marine areas along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are under 
Federal jurisdiction (Government of NWT). Although Canada manages each 
of the 12 populations of polar bear as separate units, there is a 
complex sharing of responsibilities. While wildlife management has been 
delegated to the Provincial and Territorial Governments, the Federal 
Government (Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service) has an 
active research program and is involved in management of wildlife 
populations shared with other jurisdictions, especially ones with other 
nations. In the NWT, Native Land Claims resulted in Co-management

[[Page 1090]]

Boards for most of Canada's polar bear populations. Canada formed the 
Federal-Provincial Technical and Administrative Committees for Polar 
Bear Research and Management (PBTC and PBAC, respectively) to ensure a 
coordinated management process consistent with internal and 
international management structures and the International Agreement. 
The committees meet annually to review research and management of polar 
bears in Canada and have representation from all Provincial and 
Territorial jurisdictions with polar bear populations and the Federal 
Government. Beginning in 1984, the Service as well as biologists from 
Norway and Denmark, have participated in annual PBTC meetings. The 
annual meetings of the PBTC provide for continuing cooperation between 
jurisdictions and for recommending management actions to the PBAC 
(Calvert et al. 1995, p. 61).
    The NWT Polar Bear Management Program (GNWT) manages polar bears in 
the Northwest Territories. A 1960 ``Order-in-Council'' granted 
authority to the Commissioner in Council (NWT) to pass ordinances to 
protect polar bear, including the establishment of a quota system. The 
Wildlife Act, 1988, and Big Game Hunting Regulations provide supporting 
legislation which addresses each polar bear population. The Inuvialuit 
and Nunavut Land Claim Agreements supersede the Northwest Territories 
Act (Canada) and the Wildlife Act. The Government of Nunavut passed a 
new Wildlife Act in 2004 and has management and enforcement authority 
for polar bears in their jurisdiction. Under the umbrella of this 
authority, polar bears are now co-managed through wildlife management 
boards made up of Land Claim Beneficiaries and Territorial and Federal 
representatives. The Boards may develop Local Management Agreements 
(LMAs) between the communities that share a population of polar bears. 
Management agreements are in place for all Nunavut populations. The 
LMAs are signed between the communities, regional wildlife 
organizations, and the Government of Nunavut (Department of 
Environment) but can be over-ruled by the Nunavut Wildlife Management 
Board (NWMB). In the case of populations that Nunavut shares with 
Quebec and Ontario the management agreement is not binding upon 
residents of communities outside of Nunavut jurisdiction. Regulations 
implementing the LMAs specify who can hunt, season timing and length, 
age and sex classes that can be hunted, and the total allowable harvest 
for a given population. The Department of Environment in Nunavut and 
the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the NWT has 
officers to enforce the regulations in most communities of the NWT. The 
officers investigate and prosecute incidents of violation of 
regulations, kills in defense of life, or exceeding a quota (USFWS 
1997). Canada's inter-jurisdictional requirements for consultation and 
development of LMA's and oversight through the PBTC and PBAC have 
resulted in conservation benefits for polar bear populations. Although 
there are some localized instances where changes in management 
agreements may be necessary, these arrangements and provisions have 
operated to minimize the threats to the species throughout a 
significant portion of its range. The Service analyzed the efficacy of 
Canada's management of polar bears in 1997 (62 FR 7302) and 1999 (64 FR 
1529) and determined, at the time, that the species was managed by 
Canada using sound scientific principles and in such a manner that 
existing populations would be sustained. Generally we find that Canada 
continues to manage polar bears in an effective and sustainable manner. 
However, as discussed above (see Harvest Management by Nation) the 
Territory of Nunavut has recently adopted changes to polar bear 
management that may place a greater significance on indigenous 
knowledge than on scientific data and analysis. In instances where 
improvements are necessary, because of the regional or localized nature 
of the activities, we find the actions also do not threaten the species 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Service will 
continue to monitor polar bear management in Canada and actions taken 
by the Nunavut Government.
Russian Federation
    Polar bears are listed in the second issue of the Red Data Book of 
the Russian Federation (2001). The Red Data Book establishes official 
policy for protection and restoration of rare and endangered species in 
Russia. Polar bear populations inhabiting the Barents Sea and part of 
the Kara Sea (Barents-Kara population) are designated as Category IV 
(uncertain status); polar bears in the eastern Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and 
the western East-Siberian Sea (Laptev population) are listed as 
Category III (rare); and polar bears inhabiting the eastern part of the 
East-Siberian Sea, Chukchi Sea, and the northern portion of the Bering 
Sea (Chukchi population) are listed as Category V (restoring). The main 
government body responsible for management of species listed in the Red 
Data Book is the Department of Environment Protection and Ecological 
Safety in the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation. 
Russia Regional Committees of Natural Resources are responsible for 
managing polar bear populations consistent with Federal legislation 
(Belikov et al. 2002, p. 86).
    Polar bear hunting has been totally prohibited in the Russian 
Arctic since 1956 (Belikov et al. 2002, p. 86). The only permitted take 
of polar bears is catching cubs for public zoos and circuses. There are 
no data on illegal trade of polar bears, and parts and products derived 
from them, although considerable concern persists for unquantified 
levels of illegal harvest that is occurring (Belikov 2002, p. 87). In 
the Russian Arctic, Natural Protected Areas (NPAs) have been 
established that protect marine and associated terrestrial ecosystems, 
including polar bear habitats. Wrangel and Herald Islands have high 
concentrations of maternity dens and/or polar bears, and were included 
in the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve (zapovednik) in 1976. A 1997 
decree by the Russian Federation Government established a 12-nautical 
mile (nm) marine zone to the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve; the 
marine zone was extended to 24-nm by a decree from the Governor of 
Chukotsk Autonomous Okruga (Belikov et al. 2002, p. 87). The Franz 
Josef Land State Nature Refuge was established in 1994. Special 
protected areas are proposed for the Russian High Arctic including the 
Novosibirsk Islands, Severnaya Zemlya, and Novaya Zemlya, however, 
because they have not yet been designated, these areas are not 
considered in our evaluation of the adequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms. Within these protected areas, conservation and restoration 
of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and plant and animal species 
(including the polar bear), are the main goals. In 2001, the Nenetskiy 
State Reserve, which covers 313,400 hectares (774,428 acres), and 
includes the mouth of the Pechora River and adjacent waters of the 
Barents Sea, was established. In May 2001, the Federal law ``Concerning 
territories of traditional use of nature by small indigenous peoples of 
North, Siberia, and Far East of the Russian Federation'' was passed. 
This law established areas for traditional use of nature (TTUN) within 
NPAs of Federal, regional, and local levels to support traditional life 
styles and traditional subsistence use of nature resources for 
indigenous peoples. This law and the Law ``Concerning

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natural protected territories'' (1995) regulate protection of plants 
and animals on the TTUNs. The latter also regulates organization, 
protection and use of other types of NPAs: State Nature Reserves 
(including Biosphere Reserves), National Parks, Natural Parks, and 
State Nature Refuges. Special measures on protection of polar bears or 
other resources may be governed by specific regulations of certain 
NPAs. Outside NPAs, protection and use of marine renewable natural 
resources are regulated by Federal legislation, Acts of the President 
of the Russian Federation, regulations of State Duma, Government, and 
Federal Senate of the Russian Federation, and through regulations 
issued by appropriate governmental departments. The most important 
Federal laws for nature protection are: ``About environment 
protection'' (1991), ``About animal world'' (1995), ``About continental 
shelf of the Russian Federation'' (1995), ``About exclusive economical 
zone of the Russian Federation'' (1998), and ``About internal sea 
waters, territorial sea, and adjacent zone of the Russian Federation'' 
(1998) (Belikov 2002, p. 87).
Norway
    According to the Svalbard Treaty of February 9, 1920, Norway 
exercises full and unlimited sovereignty over the Svalbard Archipelago. 
The Svalbard Treaty applies to all the islands situated between 10[deg] 
and 35[deg] East longitude and between 74[deg] and 81[deg] North 
latitude, and includes the waters up to four nautical miles offshore. 
Beyond this zone, Norway claims an economic zone to the continental 
shelf areas to which Norwegian Law applies. Under Norwegian Game Law, 
all game, including polar bears, are protected unless otherwise stated 
(Derocher et al. 2002b, p. 75). The main responsibility for the 
administration of Svalbard lies with the Norwegian Ministry of Justice. 
Norwegian civil and penal laws and various other regulations are 
applicable to Svalbard. The Ministry of Environment deals with matters 
concerning the environment and nature conservation. The Governor of 
Svalbard (Sysselmannen), who has management responsibilities for 
freshwater-fish and wildlife, pollution and oil spill protection and 
environmental monitoring, is the cultural and environmental protection 
authority in Svalbard (Derocher et al. 2002b, p. 75). Polar bears have 
complete protection from harvest under the Svalbard Treaty (Derocher et 
al. 2002b, p. 75).
    Approximately 65 percent of the land area of Svalbard is totally 
protected, including all major regions of denning by female bears; 
however, protection of habitat is only on land and to 4 nautical miles 
offshore. Marine protection was increased in 2004 when the territorial 
border of the existing protected areas was increased to 12 nautical 
miles (Aars et al. 2006, p. 145). Norway claims control of waters out 
to 200 nautical miles and regards polar bears as protected within this 
area.
    In 2001, the Norwegian Parliament passed a new Environmental Act 
for Svalbard which went into effect in July 2002. This Act was designed 
to ensure that wildlife is protected, with exceptions made for hunting. 
The regulations included specific provisions on harvesting, motorized 
traffic, remote camps and camping, mandatory leashing of dogs, 
environmental pollutants and on environmental impact assessments in 
connection with planning development or activities in or near 
settlements. Some of these regulations were specific to the protection 
of polar bears, e.g., through enforcement of temporal and spatial 
restrictions on motorized traffic and giving provisions on how and 
where to camp to ensure adequate bear security (Aars et al. 2006, p. 
145).
    In 2003, Svalbard designated six new protected areas, two nature 
reserves, three national parks and one ``biotope protection area''. The 
new protected areas are mostly located around Isfjord, the most 
populated fjord on the west side of the archipelago. Another protected 
area, Hopen, has special importance for denning bears and is an 
important denning area (Aars et al. 2006, p. 145). Kong Karls Land is 
the main denning area and has the highest level of protection under the 
Norwegian land management system. These new protected areas cover 4,449 
km2 (1,719 mi2) which is 8 percent of the 
Archipelago's total area, and increase the total area under protection 
to 65 percent of the total land area (http://www.norway.org/News/archive/2003/200304svalbard.htm).
Denmark/Greenland
    Under terms of the Greenland Home Rule (1979) the government of 
Greenland is responsible for management of all renewable resources 
including polar bears. Greenland is also responsible for providing 
scientific data for sound management of polar bear populations and for 
compliance with terms of the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of 
Polar Bears. Regulations for the management and protection of polar 
bears in Greenland that were introduced in 1994 have been amended 
several times (Jensen 2002, p. 65). Hunting and reporting regulations 
include who can hunt polar bears, protection of family groups with cubs 
of the year, prohibition of trophy hunting, mandatory reporting 
requirements, and regulations on permissible firearms and means of 
transportation (Jensen 2002, p. 65). In addition, there are specific 
regulations which apply to traditional take within the National Park of 
North and East Greenland and the Melville Bay Nature Reserve. A large 
amount of polar bear habitat occurs within the National Park of North 
and East Greenland. During the fall of 2000, the Greenland Home Rule 
Government signed an agreement with the Government of Nunavut 
concerning shared populations. Greenland introduced a quota system 
which took effect on January 1, 2006 (L[oslash]nstrup 2005, p. 133)
Conclusion for Factor D
    Our review of the regulatory mechanisms in place at the national 
and international level demonstrates that the short-term, site-specific 
threats to polar bears from direct take, disturbance by humans, and 
incidental or harassment take are, for the most part, adequately 
addressed through range state laws, statutes, and other regulatory 
mechanisms. As decribed under Factor A, the primary threat with the 
greatest severity and magnitude of impact to the species is loss of 
habitat due to sea ice retreat, however there are no known regulatory 
mechanisms currently in place at the national or international level 
effectively adressing threats to polar bear habitat.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting the Polar Bear's 
Continued Existence

Contaminants
    Understanding the potential effects of contaminants on polar bears 
in the Arctic is confounded by the wide range of contaminants present, 
each with different chemical properties and biological effects, and the 
differing geographic, temporal, and ecological exposure regimes 
impacting each of the 19 polar bear populations. Further, contaminant 
concentrations differ with age, sex, reproductive status, and other 
factors. Contaminant sources and transport, geographical, temporal 
patterns and trends, and biological effects are detailed in several 
recent Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) publications 
(AMAP 1998; AMAP 2004a; AMAP 2004b; AMAP 2005). Three main groups of 
contaminants in the Arctic are thought to present the greatest 
potential threat to polar bears and other marine mammals:

[[Page 1092]]

Petroleum hydrocarbons, persistent organic pollutants (POPS), and heavy 
metals.
Petroleum Hydrocarbons
    The principal petroleum hydrocarbons include crude oil, refined oil 
products, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and natural gas and 
condensates (AMAP 1998, p.661). Petroleum hydrocarbons come from both 
natural and anthropogenic sources. The primary natural source is oil 
seeps. Anthropogenic sources include activities associated with 
exploration, development, and production of oil (well blowouts, 
operational discharges), ship and land based transportation of oil (oil 
spills from pipelines, accidents, leaks, and ballast washings), 
discharges from refineries and municipal waste water, and combustion of 
wood and fossil fuels. In addition to direct contamination, petroleum 
hydrocarbons are transported from more southerly areas to the Arctic 
via long range atmospheric and oceanic transport, as well as by north-
flowing rivers (AMAP 1998 p. 671).
    Polar bears are particularly vulnerable to oil spills due to their 
inability to thermoregulate and to poisoning due to ingestion of oil 
from grooming and/or eating contaminated prey (St. Aubin 1990, p. 237). 
In addition, polar bears are curious and are likely to investigate oil 
spills and oil contaminated wildlife. Although it is not known whether 
healthy polar bears in their natural environment would avoid oil spills 
and contaminated seals, bears that are hungry are likely to scavenge 
contaminated seals, as they have shown no aversion to eating and 
ingesting oil (St. Aubin 1990, p. 237; Derocher and Stirling 1991, p. 
56).
    The most direct exposure of polar bears to petroleum hydrocarbons 
comes from direct contact with and ingestion of oil from acute and 
chronic oil spills. Polar bear range overlaps with many active and 
planned oil and gas operations within 40 km (25 miles) of the coast or 
offshore. To date, no major oil spills have occurred in the marine 
environment within the range of polar bears; however spills associated 
with terrestrial pipelines have occurred in the vicinity of polar bear 
habitat and denning areas (e.g., Russia, Komi Republic, 1994 oil spill, 
http://www.american.edu/ted/KOMI.HTM). Despite numerous safeguards to 
prevent spills, smaller spills do occur. The MMS (2004, pp. 10, 127) 
estimated an 11 percent chance of a marine spill greater than 1,000 
barrels in the Beaufort Sea from the Beaufort Sea Multiple Lease Sale 
in Alaska. An average of 70 oil and 234 waste product spills per year 
occurred between 1977 and 1999 in the North Slope oil fields (71 
FR14456). The largest oil spill (estimated volume of approximately 
201,000 gallons) from the North Slope Oil fields in Alaska to date 
occurred on land in March 2006, resulting from an undetected leak in a 
corroded pipeline.
    Spills during the fall or spring during the formation or breakup of 
ice present a greater risk because of difficulties associated with 
clean up during these periods and the presence of bears in the prime 
feeding areas over the continental shelf. Amstrup et al. (2000a, p. 5) 
concluded that the release of oil trapped under the ice from an 
underwater spill during the winter could be catastrophic during spring 
break-up. During the autumn freeze-up and spring break-up periods it is 
expected that any spilled oil in the marine environment would 
concentrate and accumulate in open leads and polynyas, areas of high 
activity for both polar bears and seals (Neff 1990, p. 23), resulting 
in oiling of both polar bears and seals (Neff 1990, pp. 23-24; Amstrup 
et al. 2000a, p. 3; Amstrup et al. 2006a, p. 9). Increases in Arctic 
oil and gas development coupled with increases in shipping and/or 
development of offshore and land-based pipelines increase the potential 
for an oil spill to negatively affect polar bears and/or their habitat. 
Any future declines in the Arctic sea ice may result in increased 
tanker traffic in high bear use areas (Frantzen and Bambulyak 2003, p. 
4) which would increase the chances of an oil spill from a tanker 
accidents, ballast discharge, or discharges during the loading and 
unloading the oil at the ports.
    Although there is a low probability that a large number of bears 
(e.g., 25-60) might be affected by a large oil spill, the impact of 
such a spill, particularly during the broken ice period, could be 
significant to the polar bear population (Amstrup et al. 2006a, pp. 7, 
22; 65 FR 16833). The number of polar bears affected by an oil spill 
could be substantially higher if the spill spread to areas of seasonal 
polar bear concentrations, such as the area near Kaktovik, in the fall, 
and could have a significant impact to the Southern Beaufort Sea polar 
bear population. It seems likely that an oil spill would affect ringed 
seals the same way the Exxon Valdez oil spill affected harbor seals 
(Frost et al. 1994a, pp. 108-110; Frost et al. 1994b, pp. 333-334, 343-
344, 346-347; Lowry et al. 1994, pp. 221-222; Spraker et al. 1994, pp. 
300-305). As with polar bears, the number of animals killed would vary 
depending upon the season and spill size (NRC 2003, pp. 168-169).
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS)
    Contamination of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions through long-
range transport of pollutants has been recognized for over 30 years 
(Bowes and Jonkel 1975, p. 2111; de March et al. 1998, p. 184; 
Proshutinsky and Johnson 2001, p. 68; MacDonald et al. 2003, p. 38). 
These compounds are transported via large rivers, air, and ocean 
currents from the major industrial and agricultural centers located at 
more southerly latitudes (Barrie et al. 1992; Li et al. 1998, pp. 39-
40; Proshutinsky and Johnson 2001, p. 68; Lie et al. 2003, p. 160). The 
presence and persistence of these contaminants within the Arctic is 
dependent on many factors, including transport routes, distance from 
source and the quantity and chemical composition of the contaminants 
released to the environment. The Arctic ecosystem is particularly 
sensitive to environmental contamination due to the slower rate of 
breakdown of persistent organic pollutants, including organochlorine 
(OC) compounds, relatively simple food chains, and the presence of 
long-lived organisms with low rates of reproduction and high lipid 
levels. The persistence and lipophilic nature of organochlorines 
increase the potential for bioaccumulation and biomagnification at 
higher trophic levels (Fisk et al. 2001, pp. 225-226). Polar bears, 
because of their position at the top of the Arctic marine food chain, 
have some of the highest concentrations of OCs of any Arctic mammals 
(Braune et al. 2005, p. 23).
    The most studied POPS in polar bears include polychlorinated 
biphenyls (PCBs), chlordanes (CHL), DDT and its metabolites, toxaphene, 
dieldrin, hexachloroabenzene (HCB), hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), and 
chlorobenzenes (ClBz). Overall, the relative proportion of the more 
recalcitrant compounds, such as PCB 153 and [beta]-HCH, appears to be 
increasing in polar bears (Braune et al. 2005, p. 50). Although 
temporal trend information is lacking, newer compounds, such as 
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated naphthalenes 
(PCNs), perflouro-octane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAs), 
and perflourocarboxylic acids (PFCAs) have been recently found in polar 
bears (Braune et al. 2005, p. 5). Of this relatively new suite of 
compounds, there is concern that both PFOS, which are increasing 
rapidly, and PBDEs are a potential risk to polar bears (Ikonomou et al. 
2002, p. 1886; deWit 2002, p. 583; Martin et al. 2004, p. 373; Braune 
et al.

[[Page 1093]]

2005, p. 25; Smithwick et al. 2006, p. 1139). Currently the 
polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and 
dioxin-like PCBs are at relatively low concentrations in polar bears 
(Norstrom et al. 1990, p. 14).
    The highest PCB concentrations have been found in polar bears from 
the Russian Arctic (Franz Joseph Land and the Kara Sea), with 
decreasing concentrations to the east and west (Anderson et al. 2001, 
p. 231). Overall there is evidence for recent declines in PCBs for most 
populations. The pattern of distribution of most other chlorinated 
hydrocarbons and metabolites generally follows that of PCBs, with the 
highest concentrations of DDT-related compounds and CHL in Franz Joseph 
Land and the Kara Sea, followed by East Greenland, Svalbard, the 
eastern Canadian Arctic populations, the western Canadian populations, 
the Siberian Sea, and finally the lowest concentrations in Alaska 
populations (Bernhoft et al. 1997; Norstrom et al. 1998, p. 361; 
Andersen et al. 2001, p. 231; Kucklick et al. 2002, p. 9; Lie et al. 
2003, p. 159; Verreault et al. 2005, pp. 369-370; Braune et al. 2005, 
p. 23).
    Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) share similar physical-
chemical properties with PCBs (Wania and Dugani 2003, p. 1252; Muir et 
al. 2006, p. 449), and are thought to be transported to the Arctic by 
similar pathways. Muir et al. (2006, p. 450) analyzed archived samples 
from Dietz et al. (2004) and Verreault et al. (2005) for PBDE 
concentrations, finding the highest mean PBDE concentrations in female 
polar bear adipose tissue from East Greenland and Svalbard. Lower 
concentrations of PBDE were found in adipose tissue from the Canadian 
and Alaskan populations (Muir et al. 2006, p. 449). Differences between 
the PBDE concentrations and composition in liver tissue between the 
Southen Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi/Bering seas populations in Alaska 
suggest differences in the sources of PBDE exposure (Kannan et al. 
2005, p. 9057). Overall, [Sigma]PBDEs concentrations are much lower and 
less of a concern compared to PCBs, oxychlordane, and some of the more 
recently discovered perfluorinated compounds. PBDEs are metabolized to 
a high degree in polar bears and thus do not bioaccumulate as much as 
PCBs (Wolkers et al. 2004, p. 1674).
    Although baseline information on contaminant concentrations is 
available, determining the biological effects of these contaminants in 
polar bears is difficult. Field observations of reproductive impairment 
in females and males, lower survival of cubs, and increased mortality 
of females in Svalbard, Norway, however, suggest that high 
concentrations of PCBs may have contributed to population level effects 
in the past (Wiig 1998, p. 28; Wiig et al. 1998, p. 795; Skaare et al. 
2000, p.107; Haave et al. 2003, pp. 431, 435; Oskam et al. 2003, p. 
2134; Derocher et al. 2003, p. 163). Currently it is not thought that 
present PCB concentrations are having population level effects. 
Organochlorines may adversely affect the endocrine system as 
metabolites of these compounds are toxic and some have demonstrated 
endocrine disrupting activity (Letcher et al. 2000; Braune et al. 2005, 
p. 23). High concentrations of organochlorines may also affect the 
immune system, resulting in a decreased ability to produce antibodies 
(Lie et al. 2004, pp. 555-556).
Metals
    Numerous essential and non-essential elements have been reported on 
for polar bears and the most toxic and/or abundant elements in marine 
mammals are mercury, cadmium, selenium, and lead. Of these, mercury is 
of greatest concern because of its potential toxicity at relatively low 
concentrations, ability to biomagnify and bioaccumulate in the food 
web. Polar bears from the western Canadian Arctic and southwest 
Melville Island, Canada (Braune et al. 1991, p. 263; Norstrom et al. 
1986, p. 195; AMAP 2005, pp. 42, 62, 134), and ringed seals from the 
western Canadian Arctic (Wagemann et al. 1996, p. 41; Deitz et al. 
1998, p. 433; Dehn et al. 2005, p. 731; Riget et al. 2005, p. 312), 
have some of the highest known mercury concentrations. Wagemann et al. 
(1996, pp. 51, 60) observed an increase in mercury from eastern to 
western Canadian ringed seal populations and attributed this pattern to 
a geologic gradient in natural mercury deposits.
    Although the contaminant concentrations of mercury found in marine 
mammals often exceed those found to cause effects in terrestrial 
mammals (Fisk et al. 2003, p. 107), most marine mammals appear to have 
evolved effective biochemical mechanisms to tolerate high 
concentrations of mercury. Polar bears are able to demethylate mercury 
and accumulate higher levels than their terrestrial counterparts 
without detrimental effects (AMAP 2005, p. 123). Evidence of mercury 
poisoning is rare in marine mammals, but Dietz et al. (1990, p. 49) 
noted that sick marine mammals often have higher concentrations of 
methylmercury, suggesting that these animals may no longer be able to 
detoxify methylmercury. Hepatic mercury concentrations are well below 
those expected to cause biological effects in most polar bear 
populations (AMAP 2005, p. 118). Only two polar bear populations have 
concentrations of mercury close to the biological threshold levels of 
60 [mu]g wet weight reported for marine mammals (AMAP 2005, p. 121), 
the Viscount Melville (southwest Melville Sound), Canada and the 
Southern Beaufort Sea (eastern Beaufort Sea) (Dietz et al. 1998, p. 
435, Figure 7-52).
Shipping and Transportation
    Observations over the past 50 years show a decline in arctic sea 
ice extent in all seasons, with the most prominent retreat in the 
summer. Climate models project an acceleration of this trend with 
periods of extensive melting in spring and autumn, thus opening new 
shipping routes and extending the period that shipping is practical 
(ACIA 2005, p. 1002). Notably, the navigation season for the Northern 
Sea Route (across northern Eurasia) is projected to increase from 20-30 
days per year to 90-100 days per year. Russian scientists cite 
increasing use of a Northern Sea Route for transit and regional 
development as a major source of disturbance to polar bears in the 
Russian Arctic (Wiig et al. 1996, p. 23-24; Belikov and Boltunov 1998, 
p. 113; Ovsyanikov 2005, p. 171). Commercial navigation on the Northern 
Sea Route could disturb polar bear feeding and other behaviors and 
would increase the risk of oil spills (Belikov et al. 2002, p. 87).
    Increased shipping activity may disturb polar bears in the marine 
environment, adding additional energetic stresses. If ice breaking 
activities occur they may alter habitats used by polar bears, possibly 
creating ephemeral lead systems and concentrating ringed seals within 
the refreezing leads. This in turn may allow for easier access to 
ringed seals and may have some beneficial values. Conversely, this may 
cause polar bears to use areas that may have a higher incidence of 
human encounters as well as increased likelihood of exposure to oil, 
waste products or food wastes that are intentionally or accidentally 
placed into the marine environment. If shipping involved the tanker 
transport of crude oil or oil products there would be some increased 
likelihood of small to large volume spills and corresponding oiling of 
polar bears as well as potential effects on seal prey species (AMAP 
2005, pp. 91, 127).
    The PBSG (Aars et al. 2006, pp. 22, 58, 171) recognized the 
potential for

[[Page 1094]]

increased shipping and marine transportation in the Arctic with 
declining summer/fall ice conditions. The PBSG recommended that the 
parties to the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar 
Bears take appropriate measures to monitor, regulate and mitigate ship 
traffic impacts on polar bear subpopulations and habitats (Aars et al. 
2006, p. 58).
Ecotourism
    Increasing levels of ecotourism and photography in polar bear 
viewing areas and natural habitats may lead to increased polar bear-
human conflicts. Ecotourists and photographers may inadvertently 
displace bears from preferred habitats or alter natural behaviors 
(Lentfer 1990 p.19; Dyck and Baydack 2004 p. 344). Polar bears are 
inquisitive animals and often investigate novel odors or sights. This 
trait can lead to polar bears being killed at cabins and remote 
stations where they investigate food smells (Herrero and Herrero 1997 
p. 11).
Conclusion for Factor E
    Contaminant concentrations in most populations are presently not 
thought to have population level effects on polar bears. However, one 
or several factors acting independently or together, such as loss or 
degradation of the sea ice habitat, decreased prey availability and 
accessibility, and increased exposure to contaminants have the 
potential to lower recruitment and survival rates, which ultimately 
would have negative population level effects. Svalbard, East Greenland, 
and the Kara Sea populations, which currently have some of the highest 
contaminant concentrations and thus have the potential for population 
level effects, should be monitored closely.
    Despite the regulatory steps taken to decrease the production or 
emissions of toxic chemicals, increases in hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and 
relatively new compounds such as PBDEs and PFOSs, are cause for 
concern. PBDEs, which may have impacts similar to already regulated 
chemicals such as PCBs, have increased in the last decade (Ikonomou et 
al. 2002, p. 1886; Muir et al. 2006, p. 453). PFCs remain the class of 
chemicals of most concern as we do not know how long it will take for 
voluntary phase-outs or bans to result in declines because of the 
widespread use of these compounds in consumer products (Braune et al. 
2005, p. 5). More information is needed on the specific biological 
effects of many of these contaminants on Arctic marine mammals in order 
to assess the potential impact on polar bears, and their primary prey, 
ringed and bearded seals.
    Increasing levels of ecotourism and shipping may lead to greater 
impacts on polar bears. The potential extent of impact is related to 
changing ice conditions and resulting changes to polar bear 
distribution. Such effects are difficult to quantify and need to be 
monitored.
    We conclude that contaminants, ecotourism, and shipping as singular 
factors do not threaten the existence of the polar bear throughout all 
or a significant portion of its range. Potential for future impacts 
from these sources is a concern and warrants continued monitoring or 
additional studies. These factors may become a more significant in the 
future for polar bear populations experiencing nutritional stress or 
declining population levels.

Finding

    We have carefully considered all scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
faced by the polar bear. We reviewed the petition, information 
available in our files, other published and unpublished information 
submitted to us during the public comment period following our February 
9, 2006 (71 FR 6745) 90-day petition finding. In accordance with 
Service policies, peer review of the draft Status Assessment was sought 
from 12 independent experts in the fields of polar bear ecology, 
contaminants and physiology, climatic science and physics, and 
traditional ecological knowledge. Comments were received from 10 peer 
reviewers, and those comments were addressed in revisions to the draft 
Status Assessment. We also consulted with recognized polar bear experts 
and other Federal, State, and range state resource agencies. On the 
basis of the best scientific and commercial information available, we 
find that the listing of the polar bear as threatened under the Act 
throughout its range is warranted.
    In making this finding, we recognize that polar bears have evolved 
to occur throughout the ice-covered waters of the circumpolar Arctic, 
and are reliant on sea ice as a platform to hunt and feed on ice-seals, 
to seek mates and breed, to move to feeding sites and terrestrial 
maternity denning area, and for long-distance movements. Under Factor A 
(``Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
habitat or range''), we find that the diminishing extent of sea ice in 
the Arctic is extensively documented. Further recession of sea ice in 
the future is predicted and would exacerbate the effects observed to 
date on polar bears. It is predicted that sea ice habitat will be 
subjected to increased temperatures, earlier melt periods, increased 
rain on snow events, and positive feed back systems. Productivity, 
abundance and availability of ice seals, a primary prey base, would 
then be diminished by changes in sea ice. Energetic requirements of 
polar bears would increase for movement and obtaining food. Access to 
traditional denning areas would be affected. In turn, these factors 
will cause declines in the condition of polar bears from nutritional 
stress and productivity. As already evidenced in the Western Hudson Bay 
and Southern Beaufort Sea populations, polar bears would experience 
reductions in survival and recruitment rates. The eventual effect would 
be that polar bear populations will continue to decline. Populations 
would be affected differently in the rate, timing, and magnitude of 
impact, but within the foreseeable future, the species is likely to 
become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range 
due to changes in habitat. This determination satisfies the definition 
of a threatened species under the Act.
    Under Factor B (``Overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes'') we note that polar bears are 
harvested in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia, and we acknowledge 
that harvest is the consumptive use of greatest importance and 
potential effect to polar bear. Further we acknowledge that forms of 
removal other than harvest have been considered in this analysis. While 
overharvest occurs for some populations, laws and regulations for most 
management programs have been instituted to ensure harvests result in 
healthy and sustainable populations. If overharvest were to occur in 
the future and theaten populations the ability to recover populations 
through harvest reductions and the likely efforts of management 
entities to do so and to prevent the species from becoming endangered 
or threatened is highly probable. This ability differs markedly from 
the ability of management entities to recover habitat that has been 
lost as addressed in Factor A. Further, bilateral agreements or 
conservation agreements have been developed or are in development to 
address issues of over harvest. Conservation benefits from agreements 
that are in development or have not yet been implemented are not 
considered in our evaluation. We also acknowledge that increased levels 
of bear-human encounters are expected in the future and that encounters 
may

[[Page 1095]]

result in increased mortality to bears at some unknown level. Adaptive 
management programs, such as implementing polar bear patrols, hazing 
programs, and efforts to minimize attraction of bears to communities, 
to address future bear-human interaction issues, including on-the-land 
ecotourism activities are anticipated. However, potential conservation 
benefits from management programs that may be needed and have not yet 
been developed or implemented are not being considered in our 
evaluation. We find that overharvest and increased bear-human 
interaction levels as a singular factor do not threaten polar bears 
throughout all or a significant portion of their range. Continued 
overharvest or increased mortality from bear-human encounters, however, 
may become more significant factors in the future for polar bear 
populations experiencing nutritional stress or declining population 
levels.
    Under Factor C (``Disease and predation'') we acknowledge that 
disease pathogen titers are present in polar bears; no epizootic 
outbreaks have been detected; and intra-specific stress through 
cannibalism may be increasing, however population level effects are not 
believed to have resulted. We find that disease and predation as 
singular factors do not threaten polar bears throughout all or a 
significant portion of their range. Potential for disease outbreaks or 
increased mortality from cannibalism may become more significant 
factors in the future for polar bear populations experiencing 
nutritional stress or declining population levels. Both stressors 
warrant continued monitoring.
    Under Factor D (``Inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms'') 
we find that the regulatory mechanisms in place at the national and 
international level are effective in addressing the short-term, site-
specific threats to polar bears from direct take, disturbance by 
humans, and incidental or harassment take. These factors are, for the 
most part, adequately addressed through range state laws, statutes, and 
other regulatory mechanisms for polar bears. The ultimate threat to the 
species is loss of habitat; however, this is not currently addressed at 
the national or international level. We conclude that inadequate 
regulatory mechanisms to address sea ice recession are a factor that 
threatens the species throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range.
    Under Factor E (``Other natural or manmade factors affecting the 
polar bear's continued existence'') we reviewed contaminant 
concentrations and find that in most populations contaminants are not 
determined to have population level effects. Also, despite regulatory 
steps to decrease the production or emissions of toxic chemicals, 
increases in some contaminants, including relatively new flame 
retardant by-product compounds, are of concern. We further evaluated 
increasing levels of ecotourism and shipping that may lead to greater 
impacts on polar bears. The extent of the potential impact is related 
to changing ice conditions, polar bear distribution changes, and 
relative risk for a higher interaction between polar bears and 
ecotourism or shipping. We find that contaminants, ecotourism, and 
shipping, while affecting or potentially affecting polar bears, as 
singular factors do not threaten the existence of the species 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range. However, the 
potential for future impacts from these sources may become more 
significant in the future for polar bear populations experiencing 
nutritional stress or declining population levels and warrant continued 
monitoring or additional studies.
    Based on our evaluation of all scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
faced by the polar bear, we have determined that the polar bear is 
threatened by habitat loss and inadequate regulatory mechanisms to 
address sea ice recession. Other factors, particularly overutilization, 
disease, and contaminants, may become more significant threats to polar 
bear populations, especially those experiencing nutritional stress or 
declining population levels, within the foreseeable future.

Status Evaluation

    The Act defines an endangered species as one that is in danger of 
extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A 
threatened species is one that is likely to become an endangered 
species in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range.
    Polar bear populations throughout the Arctic are being affected by 
changes in climate and sea ice habitat. The effects include earlier 
melting periods, increased rain on snow events, and positive feed back 
systems which amplify the decrease in the extent, timing and quality of 
sea ice. These changes will negatively impact polar bears by increasing 
the energetic demands of movement in seeking prey, redistributing 
substantial portions of populations seasonally into terrestrial 
habitats with marginal values for feeding, and increasing levels of 
negative bear-human interactions. Similarly we expect reductions in 
productivity for most ice seal species (decreasing availability or 
timing of availability for polar bears as food), composition changes of 
seal species in some areas, and eventually decreased levels of 
abundance. Reduced feeding opportunities will result in the reduced 
physical condition of polar bears and corresponding population-level 
demographic declines through reduction of survival and recruitment 
rates as have been manifested in Western Hudson Bay and the Southern 
Beaufort Sea populations, the 2 populations with extensive time series 
of data, and forecasted for other populations. Ultimately these inter-
related events, factors, and effects will result in declines or 
continued declines for all populations. Not all populations will be 
affected evenly in the level, rate, and timing of impact, but within 
the foreseeable future time frame of this action, all populations will 
be either directly or indirectly impacted.
    Given current population sizes (20,000-25,000), distribution and 
occurrence throughout its historical range, and the finding that not 
all populations would be affected evenly in the timing, rate and level 
of impact, we do not believe the species is presently in danger of 
extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Nor do 
we believe, based on our review of all available scientific and 
commercial information, that threats facing polar bear present an 
emergency posing a significant risk to the well-being of the species. 
However, if at any time we determine that emergency listing of polar 
bear is warranted, we will initiate the emergency listing process. 
Based on our evaluation of the best available scientific and commercial 
information, however, we find that the polar bear is likely within the 
foreseeable future (as defined to be 45 years) to become an endangered 
species throughout all or a significant portion of its range based on 
threats to the species, including loss of habitat caused by sea ice 
recession and lack of effective regulatory mechanisms to address the 
recession of sea ice. Therefore, we propose to list the polar bear as 
threatened.
    On the basis of our careful evaluation of the best available 
scientific and commercial information regarding the past, present, and 
future threats to the species as discussed above relative to the 
listing factors, we have determined that listing is warranted. This 
determination is supported by the significant current and projected 
rates of decline in the sea ice habitat essential to polar bear life 
history requisites and the inadequacy of existing regulatory

[[Page 1096]]

mechanisms to address these threats. We have funded this proposed rule 
to list the polar bear, as it is the highest priority listing action 
for the Alaska Region. The Alaska Region generally has not faced the 
relatively heavy Listing Program workload experienced by several other 
Regions, and consequently was able to use the money allocated to this 
region for FY2006 to prepare this proposed rule.
    Further, the analysis conducted for the polar bear status 
assessment and proposed rule has been a significant and jointly-
coordinated effort of fiscal, intellectual, and other resources among 
the Service and the USGS, NASA, species experts, and experts in other 
fields such as contaminants. In addition, the scientific data used in 
this analysis and projections based on these data are subject to 
constant change. A delay in proceeding would result in significant 
expenditure of fiscal and other resources to collect additional data 
and conduct analyses. As such, we have determined that proceeding with 
the listing of the polar bear at this time is a responsible use of our 
fiscal and other resources and is justified given the nature of the 
scientific data involved and the significant declines in polar bear 
habitat.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (i) the 
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at 
the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found 
those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation 
of the species and (II) that may require special management 
considerations or protection; and (ii) specific areas outside the 
geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon 
a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of 
the species. ``Conservation'' is defined in section 3 of the Act as 
meaning the use of all methods and procedures needed to bring the 
species to the point at which listing under the Act is no longer 
necessary.
    The primary regulatory effect of critical habitat is the section 
7(a)(2) of the Act requirement that Federal agencies shall insure that 
any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to result 
in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical 
habitat.
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act and implementing regulations (50 CFR 
424.12) require that, to the maximum extent prudent and determinable, 
we designate critical habitat at the time a species is determined to be 
endangered or threatened. Critical habitat may only be designated 
within the jurisdiction of the United States and may not be designated 
for jurisdictions outside of the United States. Our regulations (50 CFR 
424.12(a)(1)) state that designation of critical habitat is not prudent 
when one or both of the following situations exist--(1) The species is 
threatened by taking or other activity and the identification of 
critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of threat to 
the species, or (2) such designation of critical habitat would not be 
beneficial to the species. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(2)) 
further state that critical habitat is not determinable when one or 
both of the following situations exist: (1) Information sufficient to 
perform required analysis of the impacts of the designation is lacking, 
or (2) the biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well 
known to permit identification of an area as critical habitat.
    Delineation of critical habitat requires identification of the 
physical and biological habitat features that are essential to the 
conservation of the species. In general terms, essential habitat 
features for the polar bear include annual and perennial marine sea ice 
habitats that serve as a platform for hunting, feeding, traveling, 
resting, and to a limited extent, for denning, and terrestrial habitats 
used by polar bears for denning and reproduction for the recruitment of 
new animals into the population, as well as for seasonal use in 
traveling or resting. The most important polar bear life functions that 
occur in these habitats are feeding (adequate nutrition) and 
reproduction. These habitats may be influenced by several factors and 
the interaction among these factors, including: (1) Water depth; (2) 
atmospheric and oceanic currents or events; (3) other climatologic 
phenomena such as temperature, winds, precipitation and snowfall; (4) 
proximity to the continental shelf; (5) topographic relief 
(accumulation of snow for denning); (6) presence of undisturbed 
habitats; and (7) secure resting areas that provide refuge from extreme 
weather and/or other bears or humans. Unlike some other marine mammal 
species, polar bears generally do not occur at high-density focal areas 
such as rookeries and haulout sites. However, certain terrestrial areas 
have a history of higher use, such as core denning areas, or are 
experiencing an increasing trend of use for resting, such as coastal 
areas during the fall open water phase for which polar bear use has 
been increasing in duration for additional and expanded areas. During 
the winter period, when energetic demands are the greatest, nearshore 
lead systems and emphemeral or recurrent polynyas are areas of 
importance for seals and correspondingly for polar bears that hunt 
seals for nutrition. During the spring period, nearshore lead systems 
continue to be important habitat for bears for hunting seals and 
feeding. Also the shorefast ice zone where ringed seals construct 
subnivean birth lairs for pupping is an important feeding habitat 
during this season. In Alaska, while denning habitat is more diffuse 
than in other areas where core high density denning has been 
identified, certain areas in northern Alaska such as barrier island, 
river bank drainages, much of the North Slope coastal plain, including 
the Arctic NWR, and coastal bluffs that occur at the interface of 
mainland and marine habitat receive proportionally greater use for 
denning than other areas in the past. Habitat suitable for the 
accumulation of snow and use for denning has been delineated on the 
north slope.
    While information regarding important polar bear life functions and 
habitats associated with these functions has expanded greatly in Alaska 
during the past 20 years, in general the identification of specific 
physical and biological features and specific geographic areas for 
consideration as critical habitat is complicated and the future values 
of these habitats may change in a rapidly changing environment. The 
polar sea ice provides an essential conservation function for the key 
life history functions for hunting, feeding, travel, and nuturing cubs. 
That essential habitat is projected to be significantly reduced within 
the next 45 years, and some projections forecast complete absence of 
sea ice during summer months in shorter time frames. A careful 
assessment of the designation of critical marine areas will require 
additional time and evaluation. In addition, near-shore and terrestrial 
habitats may qualify as critical habitat; however a careful assessment 
will require additional time and evaluation. Therefore, there is a 
degree of uncertainty at this time as to which specific areas in Alaska 
might be essential to the conservation of the species and thus meet a 
key aspect of the definition of critical habitat. Consequently, the 
designation of critical habitat for the polar bear is not determinable 
at this time. In the Public Comments Solicited section of this proposed 
rule we specifically request information regarding critical habitat. If 
the listing of the polar bear becomes

[[Page 1097]]

final, we will then consider whether to propose the designation of 
critical habitat.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
activities. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and 
conservation actions by Federal, State, and local agencies, private 
organizations, and individuals. The Act provides for possible land 
acquisition and cooperation with the States and requires that recovery 
actions be carried out for listed species. The protection required of 
Federal agencies and the prohibitions against taking and harm are 
discussed below.
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, requires Federal agencies to 
evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is listed as 
endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical habitat, if 
any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency 
cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. 
Section 7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to confer informally with us 
on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a 
species proposed for listing or result in destruction or adverse 
modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is subsequently 
listed, section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to ensure that 
activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy or 
adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a 
listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency 
must enter into formal consultation with us under the provisions of 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act.
    Several Federal agencies are expected to have involvement under 
section 7 of the Act regarding the polar bear. The National Marine 
Fisheries Service may become involved, such as in instances if joint 
rule making for the incidental take of marine mammals is undertaken. 
The Environmental Protection Agency may become involved through its 
permitting authority for the Clean Water Act. The U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers may become involved through its responsibilities and 
permitting authority under section 404 of the Clean Water Act and 
through future development of harbor projects. The MMS may become 
involved through administering their programs directed toward offshore 
oil and gas development. The Denali Commission may be involved through 
its potential funding of fuel and power generation projects. The U.S. 
Coast Guard may become involved through their deployment of icebreakers 
in the Arctic Ocean.
    The listing of the polar bear would subsequently lead to the 
development of a recovery plan for this species. Such a plan will bring 
together Federal, State, local agency, and private efforts for the 
conservation of this species. A recovery plan establishes a framework 
for interested parties to coordinate activities and to cooperate with 
each other in conservation efforts. The plan will set recovery 
priorities, identify responsibilities, and estimate the costs of the 
tasks necessary to accomplish the priorities. It will also describe 
site-specific management actions necessary to achieve the conservation 
of the polar bear. Additionally, pursuant to section 6 of the Act, we 
would be able to grant funds to the State of Alaska for management 
actions promoting the conservation of the polar bear.
    Section 9 of the Act, except as provided in sections 6(g)(2) and 10 
of the Act prohibits take and import into or export out of the United 
States of listed species. The Act defines take to mean harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or to 
attempt to engage in any such conduct. However, the Act also provides 
for the authorization of take and exceptions to the take prohibitions. 
Take of listed species by non-Federal property owners can be permitted 
through the process set forth in section 10 of the Act. For Federally 
funded or permitted activities, take of listed species may be allowed 
through the consultation process of section 7 of the Act. The Service 
has issued regulations (50 CFR 17.31) that generally afford to species 
listed as threatened the prohibitions that section 9 of the Act 
establishes with respect to species listed as endangered. Furthermore, 
Section 4(d) of the Act provides that a special rule can be tailored to 
provide for the conservation of a particular threatened species. In 
that case, the general regulations for some of the section 17.31 
prohibitions may not apply to that species. A special rule may be 
developed that contains specific prohibitions or exemptions, as 
necessary and appropriate to conserve that species.
    The Act provides for an exemption for Alaska Natives in section 
10(e) that allows any Indian, Aleut, or Eskimo who is an Alaskan Native 
who resides in Alaska to take a threatened or endangered species if 
such taking is primarily for subsistence purposes and the taking is not 
accomplished in a wasteful manner. Further, if it is determined that 
such taking materially and negatively affects the threatened or 
endangered species, regulations regarding taking may be prescribed. 
Non-edible by-products of species taken pursuant to section 10(e) may 
be sold in interstate commerce when made into authentic native articles 
of handicrafts and clothing. It is illegal to possess, sell, deliver, 
carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been taken 
illegally. Further, it is illegal for any person to commit, to solicit 
another person to commit, or cause to be committed, any of these acts. 
Certain exceptions to the prohibitions apply to our agents and State 
conservation agencies.
    The Act provides for the issuance of permits to carry out otherwise 
prohibited activities involving threatened or endangered wildlife under 
certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 
CFR 17.22, 17.23, and 17.32. Such permits are available for scientific 
purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the species, and 
for incidental take in the course of otherwise lawful activities 
provided that certain criteria are met. For threatened species, permits 
are also available for zoological exhibitions, educational purposes, or 
special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act. Requests for 
copies of the regulations on listed species and inquiries about 
prohibitions and permits may be addressed to the Endangered Species 
Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, 
Anchorage, Alaska 99503.
    It is our policy, published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34272), to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at the 
time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
likely constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act and associated 
regulations at 50 CFR 17.31. The intent of this policy is to increase 
public awareness of the effects of the listing on proposed and ongoing 
activities within a species' range.
    For the polar bear we have not yet determined which, if any, 
provisions under section 9, provided these activities are carried out 
in accordance with existing regulations and permit requirements, would 
apply. Some permissible uses or actions have been identified below:
    (1) Possession, delivery, or movement, including interstate 
transport of authentic native articles of handicrafts and clothing made 
from polar bears that were collected prior to the date of

[[Page 1098]]

publication in the Federal Register of a final regulation adding the 
polar bear to the list of threatened species;
    (2) Sale, possession, delivery, or movement, including interstate 
transport of authentic native articles of handicrafts and clothing made 
from polar bears that were taken and produced in accordance with 
section 10(e) of the Act;
    (3) Any action authorized, funded, or carried out by a Federal 
agency that may affect the polar bear, when the action is conducted in 
accordance with an incidental take statement issued by us under section 
7 of the Act;
    (4) Any action carried out for scientific research or to enhance 
the propagation or survival of polar bears that is conducted in 
accordance with the conditions of a 50 CFR 17.32 permit; and
    (5) Any incidental take of polar bears resulting from an otherwise 
lawful activity conducted in accordance with the conditions of an 
incidental take permit issued under 50 CFR 17.32. Non-Federal 
applicants may design a habitat conservation plan (HCP) for the species 
and apply for an incidental take permit. HCPs may be developed for 
listed species and are designed to minimize and mitigate impacts to the 
species to the greatest extent practicable.
    We believe the following activities could potentially result in a 
violation of section 9 and associated regulations at 50 CFR 17.31 with 
regard to polar bears, however, possible violations are not limited to 
these actions alone:
    (1) Unauthorized killing, collecting, handling, or harassing of 
individual polar bears;
    (2) Possessing, selling, transporting, or shipping illegally taken 
polar bears or their parts;
    (3) Unauthorized destruction or alteration of the denning, feeding, 
resting, or habitats used for travel that actually kills or injures 
individual polar bears by significantly impairing their essential 
behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering; and,
    (4) Discharge or dumping of toxic chemicals, silt, or other 
pollutants (i.e., sewage, oil, pesticides, and gasoline) into the 
marine environment that actually kills or injures individual polar 
bears by significantly impairing their essential behavioral patterns, 
including breeding, feeding or sheltering.
    We will review other activities not identified above on a case-by-
case basis to determine whether they may be likely to result in a 
violation of 50 CFR 17.31. We do not consider these lists to be 
exhaustive and provide them as information to the public. You may 
direct questions regarding whether specific activities may constitute a 
violation of the Act to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office, 101 12th Avenue, Box 
110, Fairbanks, Alaska 99701.
    Furthermore, the Act, similar to the MMPA, provides an exception to 
the prohibitions of take and import for Alaska Natives. These 
exceptions are based on the social, cultural and economic role marine 
mammals have played, and continue to play, in the lives of Alaska 
Natives. However, under both the Act and the MMPA, the Service, if 
warranted, may prescribe limitations on the taking or import of marine 
mammals by Alaska Natives. Should this proposed rule become final the 
Service will take such action, if appropriate, to ensure that any 
harvest of polar bears by Alaska Natives does not materially and 
negatively affect the species.
    Regarding ongoing importation of polar bear trophies taken from 
approved populations in Canada into the United States, we anticipate 
conducting an evaluation of the merits of continuing the presently 
authorized imports. Under the MMPA Section 102--Prohibitions 
[Importation of pregnant or nursing animals; depleted species which 
includes those listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA] it is 
unlawful to import into the United States any marine mammal if the 
mammal was taken from a species or population stock that the Secretary 
has, by regulation published in the Federal Register, designated as a 
depleted species or stock. The exception to the general prohibition is 
under a permit for scientific research, or under a permit for enhancing 
the survival or recovery of a species or stock, issued under section 
104(c) of the MMPA.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy published in the Federal 
Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), and based on our implementation 
of the Office of Management and Budget's Final Information Quality 
Bulletin for Peer Review, dated December 16, 2004, we will seek the 
expert opinions of at least five appropriate and independent 
specialists regarding the science in this proposed rule. The purpose of 
such review is to ensure that our warranted finding and proposed rule 
are based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We 
will send copies of this proposed rule to these peer reviewers 
immediately following publication in the Federal Register. We will 
invite these peer reviewers to comment, during the public comment 
period, on the specific assumptions and conclusions regarding the 
proposed listing. We will consider all comments and information 
received during the comment period on this proposed rule during 
preparation of a final rulemaking. Accordingly, the final decision may 
differ from this proposal.

Clarity of the Rule

    Executive Order 12866 requires agencies to write regulations that 
are easy to understand. We invite your comments on how to make this 
proposal easier to understand including answers to questions such as 
the following: (1) Is the discussion in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION 
section of the preamble helpful in understanding the proposal? (2) Does 
the proposal contain technical language or jargon that interferes with 
its clarity? (3) Does the format of the proposal (groupings and order 
of sections, use of headings, paragraphing, etc.) aid or reduce its 
clarity? What else could we do to make the proposal easier to 
understand? Send a copy of any comments that concern how we could make 
this rule easier to understand to: Office of Regulatory Affairs, 
Department of the Interior, Room 7229, 1849 C Street, NW., Washington, 
DC 20240. You may also e-mail the comments to this address: 
[email protected].

Executive Order 13211

    On May 18, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13211 on 
regulations that significantly affect energy supply, distribution, and 
use. Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. The Service believes 
that the past record of cooperation demonstrated by oil and gas 
industry in complying with terms of Letters of Authorization through 
the Incidental Take program, Section 101(a)(5) of the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act, as well as active participation in monitoring the 
effects of exploration, production, and development activities on polar 
bears serves as a sound conservation practice. While the Service 
believes that the incidental take program will continue to operate 
effectively to result in a negligible affect to polar bears from 
industrial activities in the future, continued vigilance and compliance 
will be necessary for protection of the species. In addition, added 
protections afforded through Section 7 consultation required under the 
Act provide additional assurances to the protection of the species. 
This rule is not expected to significantly affect energy supplies, 
distribution, or use. Therefore, this action is not a significant 
energy action

[[Page 1099]]

and no Statement of Energy Effects is required.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that we do not need to prepare an Environmental 
Assessment and/or an Environmental Impact Statement as defined under 
the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, in 
connection with regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the 
Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination 
in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
``Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments'' (59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175, and the Department 
of Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this proposal is 
available upon request. You may request a list of all references cited 
in this document from the Supervisor, Marine Mammals Management Office 
(see ADDRESSES section).

Author

    The primary author of this proposed rule is Scott Schliebe, Marine 
Mammals Management Office (see ADDRESSES section).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:

PART 17--[AMENDED]

    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

    2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by adding an entry for ``Bear, polar'' in 
alphabetical order under MAMMALS, to the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife to read as follows:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       Species                                                 Vertebrate
------------------------------------------------------                      population where                                   Critical
                                                          Historic range      endangered or       Status      When listed      habitat     Special rules
           Common name              Scientific name                            threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Mammals
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Bear, polar.....................  Ursus maritimus....  U.S.A. (AK),         Entire..........  T............  .............  NA...........  NA.
                                                        Canada, Russia,
                                                        Denmark
                                                        (Greenland),
                                                        Norway.
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Dated: December 27, 2006.
H. Dale Hall,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 06-9962 Filed 1-8-07; 8:45 am]
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