Under the umbrella of the IUCN Species Survival Commission two specialist groups work with bears. In September 1965 a scientific meeting was arranged at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. This was the first major scientific gathering with the primary task to discuss conservation measures regarding one species, the polar bear (Ursus maritimus). This forum was three years later officially established as the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). The Bear Specialist Group (BSG) was established in 1988, in response to conservation concerns for the terrestrial bear species. In 1992 the BSG initiated an Action Plan for Bears of the World, and invited the PBSG to participate by developing the section for polar bears.
Polar bears are treated separately from the other bear species, because the management of polar bears is guided by the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears that was signed in Oslo, Norway in 1973 by the five polar range states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, USA, and the former USSR). The Agreement is the action plan for polar bears.
The membership guidelines was changed at the 2009 Copenhagen meeting to accomodate for a slight increase in the size of the group. It was felt that new challenges and the future work load would justify a somewhat larger group. Now the maximum possible group size is 25 members, 3 from each of the five nations signing the Agreement and 10 members to be appointed by the Chair. The members will still be active in research and management of polar bears.
Members meet every 3-5 years to discuss matters pertaining to research and management of polar bears throughout their range. The last meeting was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in June and July 2009. The group invites specialists as felt necessary to address specific research and management issues of specific concern. At the last meeting 21 specialists were invited, covering all the five signatory countries.