Service Publishes Incidental Take Regulations for Polar Bears and Walrus
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Alaska Region today announced that on June 12, 2013, Incidental Take Regulations (ITRs) will be published in the *Federal Register* for the non-lethal, incidental take of small numbers of polar bears and Pacific walrus that may result from ongoing oil and gas activities in the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent western coast of Alaska. Similar regulations have been in place in the Chukchi Sea since 2008, and have been successful in minimizing the effects of industrial activities on polar bears and walrus, while monitoring the levels of such interactions.
In Alaska, the Marine Mammal Protection Act<http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/pdf/mmpa_2007.pdf>(MMPA) is one of the laws that protects polar bears, Pacific walruses and sea otters by prohibiting "take<http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/definitions.htm#take>" of these animals. The MMPA also provides for specific exceptions to the prohibition on taking, including a provision that allows U.S. citizens to take small numbers of marine mammals incidental to specified activities provided we have determined that any such taking would have no more than a negligible impact on the species and does not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species for subsistence uses.
The oil and gas industry, through the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, petitioned the Service to develop these ITRs. The action is specified under Sections 101(a)(5)(A) <http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/pdf/mmpa_2007_section_101a5a.pdf>of the MMPA, which authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional<http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/definitions.htm#incidental>, taking of small numbers<http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/definitions.htm#small>of marine mammals (including polar bears, Pacific walruses and sea otters) by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region. Incidental Take Regulations<http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/itr.htm>can be issued for up to five years.
Permissible methods of taking and other means of affecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings, are prescribed as part of the authorization process.
Where appropriate, ITRs can provide considerable conservation and management benefits to potentially impacted marine mammals. Through our ITRs we work with industry to minimize any adverse impacts to marine mammals, their habitat, and their availability for Alaska Native subsistence use.
Through our ITRs we also specify monitoring and reporting requirements which provide a basis for evaluating potential impacts of current and future activities on polar bears and Pacific walruses. Without incidental take authorizations, commercial activities would still continue; however, the Service would have no formal means to require monitoring and mitigation of specific activities under the MMPA. Any form of resulting “take” would be a violation of the MMPA.
The regulations announced today were proposed on January 9 of this year; a 30-day public comment period closed February 9, 2013. They will go into effect on June 12, 2013, and remain effective through June 12, 2018.
For more information about the Incidental Take Authorization under the MMPA, please visit http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/gen_itr_iha.htm
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