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Monday, 16 October, 2000, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Polar bears win protection
Polar bear
The new treaty imposes a ban on commercial hunting
The world should be a safer place for polar bears under the terms of an agreement about to be signed by the United States and Russia.

For the first time, there will be quotas establishing limiting how many bears can be hunted for subsistence by native tribes in Alaska and the Chukotka region of Siberia.

Conservation areas will be established and a ban on commercial hunting imposed.

Many conservationists believe that the agreement will prove important for the polar bear population on both sides of the Bering Strait.

Legalised hunting

The new polar bear treaty has been modelled on a previous one between the US and Canada, which covers the southern Beaufort Sea region.

Map of the Bering Strait

Under the new agreement, bear management decisions will be made by new commissions set up in Russia and the US.

These management commissions will, for the first time, include the participation of native tribes in Alaska and Siberia.

According to David Cline of the World Wildlife Fund, who took part in the negotiations, there are an estimated 3,000 bears in Alaska and the Chukotka region of Siberia.

Polar bears are not considered an endangered species, and their numbers are currently growing.

But specialists fear the bear population may begin to decline under the threat of poachers and commercial hunters.

Bear hides fetch thousands of dollars and there is also an illegal trade in bear gallbladders which are considered by some to have medicinal value.

That is why, says Mr Cline, the agreement between Russia and the US is "extremely important".

"It's better to have legalised hunts rather than widespread poaching", he says.

The agreement
Ban on commercial hunting
Quotas for subsistence hunting
No hunting with aircraft, traps or snares
Ban on hunting female bears with cubs and bears younger than a year
No hunting near dens and nursery areas

Off-limits

Legalised hunting means establishing quotas for the native tribes who hunt for subsistence.

The agreement prohibits the killing of female bears with cubs and bears younger than one year.

It also bans the use of aircraft, traps and snares to hunt down bears.

The US-Russia pact also establishes certain areas as off-limits.

Hunting is prohibited near bear dens, as well as in what is known as the "polar bear nursery", a Russian island 85 miles (136 km) north of the Siberian mainland.

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