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Meeting agenda adopted February 2, 2018

Record of opening statements made by Heads of Delegation at the Range States meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, on February 2. All written records were provided by the Heads of Delegation for inclusion in meeting-related documents.

Presentation Title: IUCN/Polar Bear Specialist Group 1968 – 2018
Summary: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) provided an overview of the conservation status of polar bears throughout the circumpolar Arctic and gave updates on research efforts at national and international levels. In response to a request from the Range States, the PBSG also identified priorities for multi-lateral research action over the next 2 years to best address knowledge and conservation needs for polar bears. The areas identified by the PBSG are: update subpopulation abundance estimates; subpopulation delineation; long-term monitoring in high Arctic subpopulations; and sea ice habitat use/selection.

Presentation Title: Arctic Climate Change and polar bears, where are we going?
Summary: Humans are in the midst of a great environmental transformation. Because climate models have been extremely accurate in predicting global temperature increases we already have observed, we can have great faith in their projections for the future. And those projections warn us we are on a path toward a global mean temperature increase of 4°C at the end of this century. At high latitudes, replacing reflective surfaces of snow and ice, with dark landscapes and ocean waters will continue to accelerate warming. Mean annual temperatures in the Arctic therefore will rise to much higher levels. In Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska, for example average annual temperature is likely to rise another 9°C, above the recent average. In Churchill Manitoba, average temperature is likely to rise another 6°C above recent. These kinds of temperature increases don’t mean just a warmer climate for these locales, they mean a whole new climate. A new climate that means polar bears will be absent from many areas where they long have been part of the local ecosystem. The climate of Churchill—now often referred to as polar bear capital of the world, for example, will be similar to the current climate in the southern Manitoba town of Flin Flon. There currently are no polar bears near Flin Flon! Increasing our knowledge base and traditional conservation actions remain critical for maintaining polar bear populations in the near term—and for understanding how to manage interactions between polar bears and people in a changing world. To assure long-term persistence of polar bears, however, “on the ground” actions will be of little value if they are not accompanied by the aggressive mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions necessary to save polar bear habitat.

Presentation Title: Polar Bear Conservation Status in Relation to Projected Sea-ice Conditions
Summary: Loss of Arctic sea ice owing to climate change is the primary threat to polar bears throughout their range. We evaluated the potential response of polar bears to sea-ice declines by (i) calculating generation length (GL) for the species, which determines the timeframe for conservation assessments; (ii) developing a standardized sea-ice metric representing important habitat; and (iii) using statistical models and computer simulation to project changes in the global population under three approaches relating polar bear abundance to sea ice. Mean GL was 11.5 years. Ice-covered days declined in all subpopulation areas during 1979–2014 (median -1.26 days year-1). The estimated probabilities that reductions in the mean global population size of polar bears will be greater than 30%, 50% and 80% over three generations (35–41 years) were 0.71 (range 0.20–0.95), 0.07 (range 0–0.35) and less than 0.01 (range 0–0.02), respectively. According to IUCN Red List reduction thresholds, which provide a common measure of extinction risk across taxa, these results are consistent with listing the species as vulnerable. Our findings support the potential for large declines in polar bear numbers owing to sea-ice loss, and highlight near-term uncertainty in statistical projections as well as the sensitivity of projections to different plausible assumptions.

Presentation Title: Polar Bear Conservation & Management in Canada: 2015-2017 Update
Summary: This presentation provides an overview of the management system for polar bear in Canada and an update on management initiatives that have taken place over the past two years (2015-2017), since the last Meeting of the Parties. Specifically, the presentation is broken down into seven sections, including an overview of federal, provincial/territorial, and Indigenous management responsibility in Canada, population monitoring using both scientific methodologies and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, harvest management including information on recent harvest quotas and removals, human-polar bear conflict, economic development and tourism, Canada’s national Management Plan in accordance with the 2011 Species at Risk Act listing of Polar Bear as a species of Special Concern, and enforcement. The presentation concludes with information about Canada’s continued commitment to focus on effective management and conservation of polar bears, with a focus on key goals and priorities.

Presentation Title: Polar Bear Management in Greenland
Summary: For the Management Country Update, Greenland will focus on giving a brief overview of polar bear Management and information on the sub-populations under the jurisdiction of Greenland. Update on the National and Regional quotas and harvest in a historic perspective. The national Action Plan will be shortly presented and the main headlines explained. The brand new Executive Order on polar bears will also shortly be presented. The next important steps in polar bear management plan will end the presentation.

Presentation Title: Update from Norway on Polar Bear Conservation and Management
Summary: This presentation provides an introduction to overall policy and management for polar bears in Norway, i.e. in Svalbard and the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea, and an update on policy and management measures and initiatives since 2015. The presentation includes sections on roles and responsibilities in policy and management, key legislation and policy pertaining to Svalbard and the Barents Sea, daily management in Svalbard, bilateral co-operation with Russia, implementation of the 2013 National Action Plan and updates on CITES permits and number of killed bears. The presentation concludes with an overview of key areas where Norway will focus its efforts and a summary of priority challenges and activities in the next few years

Presentation Title: Conservation of Polar bears and their habitats in Russia. Management Report.
Summary: Summary not available.
Presentation Title: Polar Bear Management in the United States
Summary: Summary not available.

Presentation Title: Implementation of the polar bear conservation strategy in Chukotka
Summary: Summary not available.

Presentation Title: Polar Bear Research in Canada:
Understanding Ecology, Environmental Change and Sustainability
Summary: This presentation highlights Canada’s coordinated approach to research that is currently focused on four key research areas including habitat and climate change, population status, genetics/health, and foraging ecology/ecosystem dynamics). Climate mediated changes to the availability of sea ice have resulted in changes in growth, body condition and survival in several polar bear populations. Changes in sea ice dynamics have also resulted in changes in movement and habitat use that are continuing to be monitored. Assessing population status is a critical component of polar bear research in Canada that helps ensure sustainable harvest and track population level responses to change sea ice conditions. In addition to estimating population abundance, understanding the health of polar bears is an important component of overall population status. Polar bear health is also influenced by the availability of prey and recent research has indicated that cycling in ringed seal populations is likely to influence polar bear foraging success. Similarly, reductions in the availability of sea ice habitat have resulted in polar bear foraging in terrestrial environments. We discuss the results of these research findings in the context of polar bear conservation and management in Canada, and ultimately population status. Other polar bear research efforts are briefly summarized, including movements influencing genetic structure, evidence that body size is under selection and heritable, long term declines in body conditions, increased long distance swimming rates, prey abundance and availability influencing nutritional condition, population cycling in key prey species, and regional-scale variation in response to changing climate. Monitoring polar bear populations involves conducting physical mark-recapture, genetic mark-recapture, aerial surveys, satellite monitoring, photo surveys, and using drones. Genetics and health research involves using hair as a matrix to assess polar bear health, developing filter paper sampling for contaminant analysis, monitoring contaminants, conducting temporal studies of disease prevalence, and assessing body condition through the use of multiple metrics. Polar bear health depends on cycling and productivity in ringed seal populations, and foraging ecology and ecosystem dynamics research to date has demonstrated that polar bears are spending more time foraging in terrestrial habitats. Other polar bear research efforts are briefly summarized.

Presentation Title: Polar bear research in Greenland
Summary: Update on research conducted on polar bears in Greenland, including the joint work with Nunavut on assessments of the Baffin Bay (BB) and Kane Basin (KB) subpopulations, the recent work on polar bears in Southeast Greenland (the EG subpopulation), and the results of our EG TEK survey.

Presentation Title: Polar bear research in Norway
Summary: In August 2015, the number of polar bears in the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea subpopulation was estimated via aerial line-transect «Distance» sampling. Separate estimates were created for the coastal areas and islands within the Svalbard Archipelago, and for the pack-ice area to the north, which was separated from the islands by approximately 100-200km of open water. Approximately 250 bears occurred within the islands of the archipelago, and genetic data suggest that these are mostly local bears. Another approximately 700 bears were estimated to be in the pack ice. This combined estimate was somewhat higher than an estimate conducted for these same areas in 2004, but the difference was not significant.

Polar bears in Svalbard are monitored through an annual capture-recapture program. Data on reproduction, condition, and on sea ice around denning areas are part of the monitoring program - Monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ, www.mosj.no). Sea ice around traditionally important denning areas in east Svalbard has in recent years usually not formed in time to allow pregnant females to reach these areas in autumn in time for denning. Recent studies aim to reveal to what extent bears den in alternative areas of Svalbard instead, or whether a shift to Franz Josef Land, in the Russian Arctic has taken place. Snow drift modelling is being used to map available denning habitat based on weather data and topography. In Svalbard, studies on denning behavior are ongoing, based on both data from satellite telemetry collars and ear tag loggers, and, in cooperation with Polar Bear International, with video and still cameras at known denning sites.

Loss of sea ice has been particularly fast in the Barents Sea area (2-4 times the seasonal losses of elsewhere in the Arctic). A model on Research Selection Function (RSF) based on sea ice data and habitat use by adult female polar bears (based on satellite telemetry) showed that bears now select areas several degrees further north than earlier, further off-shore, and frequently over deeper and assumed less productive waters. Data on swimming behavior of female polar bears has shown that females frequently swim longer distances (>100km) between Svalbard and the ice edge because areas that used to be ice-covered most of the year now frequently have open water.

Researchers at the Centre for Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE, Montpellier, France) , in cooperation with the Norwegian Polar Institute, have developed a model to study reproduction and survival of polar bears, based on capture-recapture data. This provides a tool for future analyses on the effects of environmental factors on the demography of the subpopulation.

Genetic markers (microsatellites) developed for polar bears are used to identify individuals for capture-recapture, using samples collected via remote-biopsy darting. Y-chromosome markers from approximately 500 males are now available from our study area and are currently being used in analyzes of gene flow and spatial structure.

Ecotoxicology studies in the Barents Sea region have recently shown that concentrations of perfluorinated compounds in Barents Sea polar bears show stable trends. Studies on interactions between pollutants and climate change indicate that sea ice-associated declines in body condition can lead to increased concentrations of lipophilic pollutants in polar bears. Correlative field studies and in vitro studies indicate that polar bear lipid metabolism is affected by pollutants, and the effects of contaminants are more pronounced when environmental conditions are stressful.