Protection History

Credit: Øystein Wiig

The below table gives an overview of the highlights in the history of the polar bear protection regime, and is reprinted from Oran Young and Gail Osherenko (eds.): Polar Politics: Creating international Environmental Regimes. Copyright © 1993 by Cornell University. Used by permission of the publisher, Cornell University Press.

Highlights in the History of the Polar Bear Protection Regime

1938All-Russia Environmental Protection Society persuades the Northern Sea Route authority, Glavsevmorput, to prohibit hunting of polar bears from ships and at polar hydrometeorological stations
1939Norway establishes Kong Karls Land Polar Bear Reserve (Svalbard)
Late 1940s – Early 1950sGlavsevmorput prohibits hunting of polar bears in additional areas of the Soviet Arctic
1948International Union for the Conservation of Nature ( IUCN ) is created. It includes about 300 organizations (governmental and nongovernmental) from about 70 countries, plus 30 full government members.
1949Government of Northwest Territories, Canada, restricts hunting of polar bears to holders of General Hunting License (most of these are Native people).
1950Official regulations for Greenland prevent hunting from 1 June to 31 October throughout Greenland and completely protect females with cubs in Northeast and North Greenland.
1954Standing Committee on Arctic Animal Protection formed at General Assembly of IUCN .
21st November 1956Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) Council of Ministers adopts decree “On Protection of Arctic Animals”, forbidding all hunting of polar bears in Arctic waters and on islands and shorelands bordering the Arctic Ocean (including by aboriginal people). Its effect is to reduce the take to about fifty bears annually.
January 1965Officials from the United States Departments of State and the Interior suggest to delegate of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade the possibility of an international meeting on polar bears.
3rd February 1965Alaskan Senator E. L. Bartlett asks U.S. secretary of state to convene international meeting on polar bears, participants to be invited from all five circumpolar nations.
6th – 10th September 1965First International Scientific Meeting on the Polar Bear held at University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Soviets propose that Arctic states initiate a five-year moratorium on polar bear taking.
29th Jan 1968Establishment by IUCN of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) composed of scientists from each of the five “polar bear” states, with first meeting in Morges, Switzerland.
July 1969Federal-Provincial Administrative Committee for polar bear management established in Canada.
January 1970Federal-Provincial Technical Committee for Polar Bear Research established in Canada.
1970Authorization of Native-guided polar bear sport hunt in Canada and criticism of it by animal protection advocates.
February 1970Second meeting of PBSG, beginning of negotiation of agreement. IUCN ‘s Commission on Legislation prepares a draft “convention for research and/or conservation of the polar bear.” Soviet scientists submit draft proposal recommending a five-year moratorium on all hunting of polar bears.
2nd November 1971Second draft convention is distributed to PBSG members.
Late 1971 – Early 1972IUCN prepares a draft protocol (Draft 1) that differs significantly from draft conventions.
January 1972Soviets prepare a separate draft protocol, the result of discussions between Soviet Ministry of Agriculture and Soviet Foreign Ministry.
7th – 10th February 1972Third meeting of PBSG in Morges. PBSG discusses IUCN draft documents – 2 Nov 1971 convention and the draft protocol (Draft 1). PBSG agrees that a draft interim protocol should be presented to governments. PBSG also discusses the Soviet draft protocol, adopts seven resolutions incorporating some Soviet provisions, and calls for IUCN to prepare a protocol (Draft 2) and convention incorporating these provisions.
August 1972Special meeting of PBSG in Banff, British Columbia, to discuss second draft protocol (Draft 2).
October 1972United States Congress passes the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (Public Law 92-522), prohibiting all taking of marine mammals, including polar bears, but allowing exemption for Alaska Natives.
November 1972IUCN prepares third draft protocol (Draft 3), called an interim agreement, and circulates it to five governments for comment. Work on the broader convention is set aside.
Early 1973Norway asked by IUCN to host final meeting on protocol.
March 1973Four states (all except Soviet Union) agree to meet in Oslo 13-15 Nov 1973.
June 1973Soviet Union sends comments and recommendations on Interim Agreement (Draft 3) to IUCN and proposes to make the draft interim agreement a permanent agreement.
June 1973Norway establishes two nature reserves (including Kong Karls Land on Svalbard), three national parks, and fifteen bird sanctuaries, thereby protecting about half the area of Svalbard.
September 1973IUCN prepares Draft 5 of agreement (Draft 3).
August 1973
Norway places polar bears under total protection for a period of five years, banning all hunting except for scientific or other special purposes.
24th October 1973Soviets finally receive explanations of changes incorporated in fourth draft (Draft 4) of agreement. These reflect Canadian, American, and Norwegian comments on the interim agreement (Draft 3).
13th – 15th November 1973Final negotiations on agreement (Oslo). Signing of Agreement on Conservation of Polar Bears by representatives of four polar bear nations (Soviet representatives at the meeting do not have authorization to sign).
1974Greenland creates the world’s largest national park – 270,271 square miles, or about one-third of Greenland’s total area – where many species, including polar bears, are completely protected. Regulations concerning polar bear hunting elsewhere in Greenland are revised.
16th December 1974Ratification of agreement by Canada.
23rd January 1975Ratification of agreement by Norway.
26th February 1976Ratification of agreement by Soviet Union.
26th May 1976Agreement of Conservation of Polar Bears enters into force (90 days after third ratification).
1st November 1976Ratification of agreement by the United States.
9th December 1977Ratification of agreement by Denmark.
20th – 22nd January 1981Meeting at which five states agree to extend the agreement indefinitely.