07MOSCOW2195, MANAGING POLAR BEARS: IT TAKES A VILLAGE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW2195 2007-05-11 13:25 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO2509
RR RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHMO #2195/01 1311325
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111325Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0155
INFO RUEHZN/EST COLLECTIVE
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2436
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2116
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002195 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR OES/ENV, OES/OA, and EUR/RUS 
INTERIOR PASS TO FWS (KOHL, PERHAM) 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SENV SOCI RS
SUBJECT: MANAGING POLAR BEARS: IT TAKES A VILLAGE 
 
MOSCOW 00002195  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
1.  SUMMARY:  A project aimed at alleviating the pressure of growing 
human-polar bear interaction has produced promising results in the 
village of Vankarem, in Siberia's far northeastern district of 
Chukotka.  Concerted local leadership action, with support from 
World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has led to the creation of a village bear 
patrol, fueled a revival of villagers' traditional practices, and 
generated significant regional government interest.  Chukotka's 
indigenous hunters are also eagerly awaiting implementation of the 
U.S.-Russia Treaty on the Management and Conservation of the 
Chukotka-Alaska Polar Bear Population, which will legalize limited 
polar bear hunting in Russia for the first time since 1956.  These 
developments reveal strong levels of civic engagement among the 
region's indigenous peoples.  They open the door to further 
U.S.-Russia collaborative efforts to manage polar bears and to 
support indigenous ways of life on both sides of the Bering Strait. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
Context: Shrunken Bear Population 
--------------------------------- 
 
2.  Most of the world's 20,000-25,000 estimated polar bears are 
located on the territories of Russia, the US (Alaska), Canada, 
Denmark (Greenland), and Norway.  The regional population that roams 
the northwestern coast of Alaska and eastern Siberia is estimated to 
have shrunk as low as 2,000.  Increased melting of multi-year pack 
ice, the traditional habitat of polar bears, is pushing more bears 
inland in their search for food (coastal seal populations).  On 
shore, polar bears risk being stranded for months at a time when the 
ice recedes, and they are coming into greater contact with coastal 
villages.  An opportunistic species, the bears create major problems 
when they enter villages in search of food.  The rural population of 
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia's farthest northeast district and 
home to just over 55,000 people, remains heavily dependent on 
reindeer herding, hunting, and fishing.  Since 2003, there have been 
three fatal bear attacks. 
 
Vankarem's Village Bear Patrol 
------------------------------ 
 
3.  Recently returned from a ten-day trip to Chukotka with a group 
of Russian scientists and journalists, Craig Perham of the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (FWS; Alaska) and Margaret Williams of the 
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) briefed EST on current efforts to manage 
polar bears in the village of Vankarem, on the coast of the Chukchi 
Sea.  Perham and Williams visited Vankarem to observe firsthand how 
Russia's indigenous peoples of the north are addressing increased 
human-bear interaction.  Perham participated in a workshop at 
Vankarem and shared information and techniques with the local 
hunters regarding how the FWS deals with polar bear/human 
interactions. 
 
4.  Like many villages in the Chukchi region, Vankarem has seen a 
dramatic rise in the presence of polar bears.  As the number of 
walrus congregating on the coast near the village has increased (up 
to 30,000) -- so too has the number of bears, with over 185 observed 
in the Fall of 2006.  With WWF support, the residents of Vankarem 
have established a village bear patrol that works to alleviate 
human-bear pressure by monitoring polar bear whereabouts, collecting 
data, and promoting conservation and traditional hunting practices. 
Headed by two leading village brothers, the patrol has become a 
central community organization. 
 
5.  In one highly successful initiative, the patrol took 86 walrus 
carcasses (occasional scavenging food for polar bears) and 
established a feeding point five miles outside the village.  In a 
two-week period between November and December, the patrol counted 96 
bears at the site.  One villager aptly pointed to this as "migration 
correction."  Though the village bear patrol possess many of the 
latest technologies being used in the United States, such as 
computers and digital cameras, it remains rooted in tradition and 
uses local resources.  For example, patrol members use flare guns or 
long sticks with pointed ends, that are held at 45 degree angles to 
resemble walrus tusks, to deter the bears -- rather than shotgun 
deterrent rounds or vehicles, which are used in Alaska.  Perham 
noted his interest in observing how human-bear interaction is being 
handled in the Russian Far East because residents in Alaska have 
faced similar problems. 
 
Radioactive Beacon Worries Village 
---------------------------------- 
 
6.  Another ecological concern for Vankarem is the presence of a 
nearby navigation beacon that is powered by a radioactive Soviet-era 
Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG).  Designed to provide 
electric power to navigational facilities like light houses and 
weather stations in remote locations -- more than 700 RTG's remain 
 
MOSCOW 00002195  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
operational or abandoned across Russia.  These devices are estimated 
to be the largest unsecured quantit
y of radioactive material in the 
world and are a key focus of DOE's International Radiological Threat 
Reduction Program.  Though powered by a small fuel source (the size 
of 3-4 coins) that does not usually pollute a wide area -- there 
have been reports of these installations being torn apart for scrap 
metal in the impoverished areas of the Far East, causing extensive 
contamination in the process.  Each device has activity levels 
ranging from 25,000 to 250,000 curries of strontium-90 -- similar to 
the amount of such material released from the Chernobyl nuclear 
accident.  Efforts to remove RTG's in the region are likely to 
remain stalled until the GOR settles on an alternative power source 
that can weather the harsh winters. 
 
Vankarem: Model for Success 
--------------------------- 
 
7.  Perham and Williams said they were optimistic about the levels 
of community involvement in Vankarem.  During their visit, Perham 
and Williams met with the village's hunters, visited the local 
school to view student art and discuss safety, and attended an 
evening town hall meeting to discuss community polar bear impact. 
The presence of a female representative from the regional government 
in the meeting with the village hunters, a setting traditionally 
reserved for men, again underscores the ongoing mixing of new and 
traditional in Chukotka's indigenous communities.  Steven Lee Myers 
of the New York Times, who accompanied the expedition, called the 
community events "an increasingly rare instance of Russian civic 
political organization." 
 
8.  The Chukotka government has also noted the work being done in 
Vankarem and an advisor to Governor Abramovich accompanied the 
group's visit.  The regional government is preparing to create a 
protected area (likely a Zakaznik) for walrus in the vicinity of 
Vankarem.  Building on the success of Vankarem's village bear 
patrol, WWF intends to expand their program to two neighboring 
villages in the coming year.  One of these villages, Reirkaipi, is 
already working to submit a proposal (with WWF assistance) to the 
Chukotka government to move the local airstrip and establish a low 
impact zone for walrus. 
 
Village Welcomes Legalized Polar Bear Hunting 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
9.  Also aimed at improving the human-bear situation in the Russian 
Far-East, limited polar bear hunting rights for indigenous hunters 
in Chukotka are set to be renewed for the first time since 1956. 
The U.S.-Russia Treaty on the Conservation and Management of the 
Chukotka-Alaska Polar Bear Population, signed October 16, 2000, is 
in the final stages of implementation.  The next step will by the 
formation of a joint commission, advised by scientists from both 
countries, to establish a joint quota for indigenous peoples on both 
sides of the Bering Strait. 
 
10.  Russia's quota will be allocated by village.  Alaska's 
experience with a similar quota system with Canada should provide a 
helpful model for implementation.  Russia named their delegates to 
the commission in July 2006, and the US representatives are expected 
to be finalized soon.  The treaty is supported by many environmental 
groups because it will reduce the threat of poaching and increase on 
the ground education and environmental awareness.  The hunters in 
Vankarem are excited about renewing their hunting traditions and 
strengthening ties across the Bering Strait -- and expressed their 
strong desire to have the treaty secured as soon as possible. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
11.  Managing the Alaska-Chukotka Polar Bear population and 
supporting the region's indigenous peoples are shared priorities for 
both the United States and Russia.  Strong local support for the WWF 
pilot project in Vankarem, the regional government's involvement, 
and broad popular support for the coming bilateral quota hunting 
system bode well for continued U.S.-Russia efforts.  A joint 
population survey of the region's polar bears, to correct current 
outdated and inaccurate numbers, is one important project that could 
be addressed by future joint action.  Ecotourism, still in its 
infancy in the Russian Far East, is another potential avenue of 
cooperation.  Chukotka's award-wining official webpage, notable for 
its highly professional design and comprehensive English text, is 
already extensively promoting the region's tourist potential -- 
reflecting the regional government's interest in attracting outside 
attention. 
 
BURNS

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