Polar Bear Harvest and Handicraft Guidelines

Polar Bear Harvest Guidelines

Who can harvest polar bears for subsistence?

Coastal dwelling Alaska Natives provided that the take is:

    • For subsistence purposes; or
    • For the purposes of creating and selling authentic Native articles of handicrafts and clothing; and
    • Is not done in a wasteful manner.


USFWS Regulatory Definitions Related To Marine Mammal Harvest By Alaska Natives 50 CFR Section 18.3

Definition of Alaska Native:

Alaskan Native means a person defined in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. section 1603 (85 Stat. 588)) as a citizen of the United States who is of one-fourth degree or more Alaska Indian (including Tsimshian Indians enrolled or not enrolled in the Metlaktla Indian Community), Eskimo, or Aleut blood, or combination thereof. The term includes any Native, as so defined, either or both of whose adoptive parents are not Natives. It also includes, in the absence of proof of a minimum blood quantum, any citizen of the United States who is regarded as an Alaska Native by the Native village or town of which he claims to be a member and whose father or mother is (or, if deceased, was) regarded as Native by any Native village or Native town. Any citizen enrolled by the Secretary pursuant to section 5 of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act shall be conclusively presumed to be an Alaskan Native for purposes of this part.

Definition of Subsistence:

Subsistence means the use by Alaskan Natives of marine mammals taken by Alaskan Natives for food, clothing, shelter, heating, transportation, and other uses necessary to maintain the life of the taker or for those who depend upon the taker to provide them with such subsistence.

Definition of Wasteful Take:

Wasteful manner means any taking or method of taking which is likely to result in the killing or injuring of marine mammals beyond those needed for subsistence purposes or for the making of authentic native articles of handicrafts and clothing or which results in the waste of a substantial portion of the marine mammal and includes without limitation the employment of a method of taking which is not likely to assure the capture or killing of a marine mammal, or which is not immediately followed by a reasonable effort to retrieve the marine mammal.

Definition of Authentic Native Articles of Handicrafts and Clothing:

Items made by an Indian, Aleut, or Eskimo that (a) are composed wholly or in some significant respect of natural materials and (b) are significantly altered from their natural form and are produced, decorated, or fashioned in the exercise of traditional native handicrafts without the use of pantographs, multiple carvers, or similar mass-copying devices. Improved methods of production utilizing modern implements such as sewing machines or modern techniques at a tannery registered pursuant to § 18.23(c) may be used so long as no large-scale mass-production industry results. Traditional native handicrafts include, but are not limited to, weaving, carving, stitching, sewing, lacing, beading, drawing, and painting. The formation of traditional native groups, such as cooperatives, is permitted so long as no large-scale mass production results.

Is a permit or license required for Alaska Natives to harvest polar bears?

No, however reporting of harvest is required as noted below.

Is there an open and/or closed season for polar bear harvest by Alaska Natives?

No. Currently, polar bears may be harvested by Alaska Natives at any time of year.

Is there a quota for the subsistence harvest of polar bears?

Yes- there are harvest quotas for both polar bear subpopulations in Alaska, but they are handled differently.

· The harvest of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears is managed under a voluntary annual quota adopted by the Inuvialuit-Iñupiat Joint Polar Bear Commission, and is currently 35 bears for Alaska. This voluntary quota applies to harvests from Icy Cape to the U.S.-Canadian border in Alaska. The voluntary quota means that there are no enforcement actions taken if the quota is exceeded, but hunters voluntarily aim to keep harvest levels within the agreed upon number.

· For Chukchi Sea polar bears, the U.S.-Russia Polar Bear Commission has adopted an annual take limit of 85 bears, half (42.5) of which may be harvested in Alaska. The eastern boundary of the area to which this quota applies is in the process of being changed from Point Barrow to Icy Cape. This quota is an enforceable quota, which means that civil and/or criminal penalties can potentially be applied for exceeding it. However, a quota-based harvest management system has not yet been put in place, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is using its enforcement discretion with respect to any take that exceeds the annual limit.

How do I find out what the current harvest levels are?

Monitoring of harvest levels is conducted through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Marking, Tagging and Reporting Program (MTRP). Contact 1-800-362-5148 for information on harvest levels.

What are the harvest reporting requirements for polar bears?

Hunters are required by federal regulation to have the skull and hide of their bear tagged within 30 days of harvest. Taggers will record information provided by hunters, including the date and location of the harvest, as well as the sex, age, and body condition of the bear. Tagging of polar bears is done through the USFWS Marking, Tagging, and Reporting Program (MTRP). Contact information for taggers in local communities is accessible here: https://www.fws.gov/alaska/sites/default/files/2020-02/Taggerlist2020_508.pdf

Hunters can contact the MTRP for more information: 1-800-362-5148.

Can polar bears with research equipment be harvested for subsistence?

Yes. Polar bears with evidence of research, such as satellite collars, ear tags, or other markings can be harvested for subsistence. Hunters are required to return any research equipment to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service if such a bear is harvested.

Are polar bears that have been tranquilized for research safe to eat?

Hunters may use their discretion on whether the meat from a polar bear that has been tranquilized for research purposes is safe for human consumption, and adjust their use of the polar bear meat accordingly. The drug used to tranquilize polar bears, Telazol (tiletamine-zolazepam), is nearly fully metabolized from a polar bear’s tissues within 24 hours of tranquilization. In an abundance of caution, it is recommended that the meat from a bear that has been tranquilized is safe for consumption 14 days after tranquilization. Hunters can call the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 1-800-362-5148 and provide a description of the research evidence on a harvested polar bear to determine when the bear was tranquilized.

What are the rules for taking polar bears in defense of life and property?

Any person may take a polar bear in self-defense or to save the life of a person in immediate danger. However, the taking of polar bears in defense of property (including pets) is not allowed due to polar bears being listed under the Endangered Species Act. If a polar bear is taken in defense of life, it must be reported to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service within 48 hours by calling the Polar Bear Program at 1-800-362-5148. If leaving a message, provide your name, contact information, and location so that you may be reached for additional information. You will be required to document the circumstances leading up to, and immediately surrounding, the death of the bear, including preventative methods used to deescalate the conflict in advance of killing the bear. The shooter is responsible for the carcass once the bear is killed (it cannot be abandoned) and may be required to transfer the carcass to a law enforcement official or designated local representative. The shooter may not keep any parts of the animal unless authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.   

What other guidelines exist for polar bear harvest?

The following guidelines adopted by the I-I Joint Commission also apply for the harvest of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears:

* All bears in dens or constructing dens are protected.

* All members of a family group are protected (no harvest of cubs or females with cubs).

* Hunting seasons shall be based on traditional ecological knowledge.

* The annual acceptable harvest shall be determined by the Joint Commission.

* The use of aircraft or large motorized vessels for the purpose of taking polar bears shall be prohibited.

* Each jurisdiction shall prohibit the exportation from, the importation and delivery into, and traffic within its territory, of polar bears or any parts or product thereof taken in violation of this Agreement.

* Polar bears in villages during closed seasons should, whenever possible, be deterred from the area.

* Polar bears will not be harvested in the vicinity of bone piles created from whaling activities or active terrestrial walrus haulouts.

* Polar bears threatening human safety, including those killed during research activities, may be taken at any time of the year, and will be counted as part of the total quota.

* The following data are required to be recorded for each polar bear killed: sex, date and location of the kill, and hunter’s name.

* The following specimens should be collected from each bear killed: the lower jaw or an undamaged post-canine tooth to be used for age-determination, ear tags, lip tattoos, and radio collars if present, the baculum from each male, and/or other specimens as agreed to by the hunters of each jurisdiction for additional studies.

* These provisions apply to the communities of Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik. 

For harvest of Chukchi Sea polar bears, the following are prohibited under the U.S.-Russia Polar Bear Agreement:

• Harvest of females with cubs

• Harvest of cubs less than one year of age

• Harvest of polar bears in dens, preparing to enter dens, or who have just left dens

• Use of poisons, traps, or snares to harvest polar bears

• Use of aircraft, large motorized vehicles, or large motorized vessels to harvest polar bears

Polar Bear Handicraft Guidelines

General Information

Alaska Native artisans are not limited in their use of polar bear hides or skulls or other parts in the creation of handicrafts. However, the items must be significantly altered in order to be considered Authentic Native handicrafts and enter into commercial sale.

Selling to Alaska Native Peoples

Unaltered polar bear hides and skulls may be sold or traded to other qualifying Alaska Native peoples (50 CFR Part 18.3 Definitions), or to a registered agent for resale to other qualifying Alaska Native peoples.

Selling to Non-Alaska Native Peoples

Polar bear hides and skulls must be significantly altered into an authentic Native handicraft, by an Alaska Native person, in order for them to be sold to non- Alaska Native peoples.

Can polar bear handicrafts and parts be transported across international boundaries?

Polar bears are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Because of this status, a CITES Export Permit may be required to travel outside of the United States with handicrafts or other items that contain polar bear fur or parts. Because some countries may not allow polar bear handicrafts without CITES documents it is best to contact the U. S. Fish & Wildlife import/export office in Anchorage at (907) 271-6198. Additionally, because of restrictions under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, while personal items or handicrafts may be exported the commercial export of handicrafts that contain polar bear fur or other polar bear parts is not allowed.