Alaska Denied Request to Limit Commercial Bear Part Sales

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The Federal Subsistence Board recently denied a Request for Reconsideration (RFR) submitted by the State of Alaska, through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), asking the Federal Board to reconsider its decision that allows commercial sale of bear parts including claws, skulls, teeth and bones taken under federal subsistence regulations. Federal regulations allow the sale of handicrafts made from bear parts on the Internet and in curio shops.

In May 2006, the Federal Board refused the State's request to limit sales, but did adopt an unenforceable prohibition against sales of handicrafts that are "significant commercial enterprises." In August 2006, the State filed an RFR challenging the Board's May 2006 decision. This request was recently denied.

"It is important to allow customary and traditional use and exchange of handicrafts made from bear parts," said ADF&G Commissioner Denby S. Lloyd. "However, the Federal Board went too far in creating a new market for bear parts that will mask illegal sales and provide incentive for more harvest. The State wants the Federal Board to minimize commercial sale of handicraft made from bears before, not after, it jeopardizes bear populations."

The Federal Board's refusal to limit commercial sale creates problems for management biologists and enforcement officers because purchase of claws, teeth, skulls, and bones is prohibited under State law. The State argues that federal regulations violate sound management and create problems under the Endangered Species Act. Unrestricted sales may contribute to illegal harvest, overharvest, and waste of bears in Alaska, and in other states and countries, in the same manner that legal sales of elephant ivory contribute to the illegal harvest of elephants.

The State manages bear populations for sustained yield and provides subsistence use of bears throughout Alaska, including on federal lands. The State allows bear parts to be used in handicrafts that are not sold, but only allows the sale of bear fur in handicrafts and, in limited circumstances, allows intact bear hides to be sold under a permit. State authorized sales do not raise conservation concerns because the fur products are not extremely valuable and because intact hides can be tracked under a sealing and transfer permit system. Federal regulations authorize sales of extremely valuable bear parts without implementing a tracking system.

The State has also submitted a proposal for consideration at the Federal Board's April 30-May 2, 2007, meeting to revise the definition of "skin, hide, pelt, or fur" to exclude claws in federal regulation and to limit the sale of handicraft articles made from allowable bear parts among federally-qualified subsistence users.

To learn more about this issue and view the State's RFR recently denied by the Federal Board, visit