New Svalbard Polar Bear Bill Adopted

A curious polar bear checks out the research equipment of the Norwegian Polar Institute on Svalbard in 2018. (Photo: Øystein Overrein, the Norwegian Polar Institute)

With 64 votes in favor, the Norwegian parliament will send the new bill on the protection of polar bears on Svalbard, i.a., to a second processing round. 

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The Norwegian parliament has voted on the disputed bill regarding the new protection of the polar bears and sea birds on Svalbard.

A clear majority voted to send the bill to a second hearing, with 64 in favor and 36 against. 

The change in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act will tighten the rules on protecting nesting sea birds and the legal distance to polar bears.

Own demands

Today, it is illegal to lure and follow polar bears as it disturbs the bear and is dangerous to animals and people. 

In the new bill from the Ministry of Climate and Environment, these are the proposed new regulations:

"It is proposed that it will be prohibited to disturb, lure, or pursue polar bears unnecessarily. It is also suggested that a 300-meter distance from polar bears be required, but 500 meters between March 1st and June 30th, as polar bears are particularly vulnerable to disturbances in this period."

Thus, the ban on disturbing polar bears will no longer be linked to the risk of danger to people or the bear but will be an independent demand. 

The proposal was passed by parliament in the first round but will be considered further in the second round.

Unnecessarily disturbing, luring, or following polar bears is prohibited.
Proposal 47 on changes in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act

Bear spray and postponement

Two additional proposals were also made before the voting. 

One came from Lars Haltbrekken (Socialist Left), who proposed an investigation of mandatory bear spray (pepper spray, ed. note) as a defense measure against polar bear attacks during any tent expeditions or stays in cabins or landing stations outside the immediate vicinity of populated areas.

The second suggestion came from Marius Arion Nilsen on behalf of the Conservative, Progress, and Christian Democrat Party. Nilsen asked the government to reevaluate the matter in light of the upcoming Svalbard white paper.

None of the proposals received a majority.

Lars Haltbrekken
Stortingsrepresentant for Sosialistisk venstreparti, Lars Haltbrekken. (Foto: Stortinget)
Parliament representative for the Socialist Left Party, Lars Haltbrekken. (Photo: the Norwegian parliament)

Increased focus

The new bill has been subject to much criticism since the Norwegian Environment Agency presented its recommendations for the ministry in January 2023. Parliament representatives from the Progress Party advocated for the government to postpone the introduction of the proposed environmental regulations on Svalbard already in March last year. Just before Christmas, several local actors objected to the proposals and wanted the matter returned.

The Norwegian Environment Agency believes the proposals will have little effect on traffic for permanent residents compared to the current regulations. The proposal will primarily affect sea-based tourism operations, which must adapt to the new rules.

"The focus on polar bear experiences is increasing, and the Governor of Svalbard now considers stricter regulations necessary to protect polar bears from disturbances. In 2022, there has been an increase in the number of police reports for violations of traffic rules, illegal motor traffic on sea ice, and disturbance of polar bears," wrote the agency in an earlier press release.


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