The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published final incidental take regulations (ITR) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) for the nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take of polar bears and Pacific walruses that may result from oil and gas industry activities on the North Slope of Alaska and adjacent waters. These regulations do not cover activities on lands and waters within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
These new regulations are in response to an application submitted by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) on behalf of oil and gas companies it represents and will be in effect for five years (2021–2026). The Service has issued similar regulations since 1993.
The Service evaluated the application using the best available science and worked with AOGA to establish protocols and mitigation measures, including increased aerial surveys to detect maternal polar bear dens, to reduce the potential for incidental take of polar bears and Pacific walruses as required under the MMPA.
The new regulations—based on an improved understanding of polar bears, their habitat use, and behavioral response to disturbance—include permissible amounts of incidental take consistent with the requirements of the MMPA. Under previous ITRs issued by the Service, take estimates were generated using historical interactions between industry and Pacific walruses or polar bears at a broader scale. This is the first time the Service has estimated rates of polar bear encounters and take that are specific to date and location. These rates were then applied to the detailed project information provided by AOGA to generate estimates of take for 2021–2026. The Service also estimated the probability of impacts to denning female polar bears and their cubs, simulated polar bear dens and estimated polar bear behavioral response to disturbance using the detailed project descriptions.
The regulations also include mitigation, monitoring and reporting requirements. The mitigation measures are to ensure that industry activities have the least practicable adverse impact on polar bears and Pacific walruses, their habitat and their availability for subsistence uses. The required monitoring and reporting will provide valuable information on polar bear and Pacific walrus distributions and behaviors in the project area and could also help the Service refine take estimates and develop more effective mitigation measures, if necessary, in the future. The Service published the proposed incidental take regulations on June 1, 2021, for a 30-day public review and comment period. Responses to substantive comments are included in the Federal Register notice for the final incidental take regulations.
To view the regulations and supporting documents:
On August 4, visit the Federal Register Reading Room to preview;
After August 4, visit regulations.gov and search docket number: FWS-R7-ES-2021-0037.