ITK will fight U.S. effort to ban international trade in polar bear parts
"The Inuit position is that the polar bear is harvested within sustainable levels"
The head of Canada’s main Inuit organization is pressing the federal government to help him form a united front against resurgent lobbying efforts in the U.S. to ban the international trade in polar bear parts — a push highlighted by a provocative new advertising campaign launched last week in influential “inside-the-beltway” publications in Washington, D.C.
The ad is aimed at convincing U.S. lawmakers to champion the “uplisting” of the species to the most restrictive status possible under the global wildlife-protection convention CITES — a proposal identical to one that failed to gain international support two years ago.
“Inuit do not support a proposal to transfer polar bear from Appendix ll to Appendix l on CITES,” Terry Audla, the new president of the Ottawa-based Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told Postmedia News. “The Inuit position is that the polar bear is harvested within sustainable levels and the trade levels have remained stable since this was last reviewed.”
Audla added: “As national Inuit leader, I will be writing to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to express our position and to request a meeting to provide the Canadian Inuit view on the uplisting proposal of the polar bear. I will also be writing to the Canadian Minister of the Environment [Peter Kent] for a united Canadian position.”
Political battle lines are already being drawn over the issue in the U.S.
A group of 43 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives announced this week they support the idea — as advocated in the ad campaign launched by the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare — of winning increased protection for polar bears in 2013 at the next major conference for CITES, the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species.
The Democratic legislators called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and fellow Democrats Salazar and U.S. President Barack Obama to formally endorse the plan.
“Greater protections for polar bears are needed to strengthen populations so they will have the best chance of survival,” stated Rep. Ed. Markey of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ natural resources committee, on behalf of his 42 colleagues. “With the polar bear’s plight getting worse over the last two years - record prices for polar bear skins, unsustainable harvest of polar bears in Canada (the only country that still allows the killing of polar bears for international trade), and new evidence of polar bears’ habitat melting away - the case is stronger than ever for securing stronger protections under CITES.”
The coalition of Democrats said in a statement that only “modest protection” was given to polar bears when they were listed in Appendix II of CITES in 1975.
The species “may still be commercially traded on the global market and may be subject to trophy hunting,” the representatives added. “Moving polar bears to Appendix I would provide further protections by banning the international commercial trade in bear parts and place additional restrictions on trophy hunting.”
In a statement issued jointly with the IFAW and Humane Society International, NRDC spokesman Andrew Wetzler said, “the plight of the polar bear has been one of the most visible and harrowing issues to emerge in the global effort to confront climate change.”
Humane Society International director of wildlife, Teresa Telecky, stated the price of polar bear skins has doubled since 2008.
“Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be lost by mid-century and apparently people want to get a piece of them before they are gone forever,” she said. “The U.S. must take the lead in stopping people from cashing in on polar bears by submitting the CITES proposal and lobbying other countries to support it.”
Earlier this year, Canadian-based Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. sold a polar bear pelt for a record-setting $11,000.
It’s believed that interest from collectors in China and Russia is putting upward pressure on prices for polar bear parts, with the prospect of a renewed U.S. push for a CITES uplisting only fuelling demand.
While U.S. environmentalists insist that the world’s 25,000 polar bears are in imminent peril due to climate change — with the estimated 15,500 individuals in Canada also at risk of being hunted — Inuit experts and some scientists say the overall population is healthy and stable.
More than 400 polar bears are legally killed in Canada every year by Inuit hunters or by foreign adventurers taken on hunting trips by aboriginal guides.
In November, the Canadian government formally declared polar bears a “species of concern” and announced a three-year consultation to create a long-term management plan for the animal.
“Canada is home to two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population and we have a unique conservation responsibility to effectively care for them,” Environment Minister Peter Kent said at the time. “Our government is demonstrating leadership in protecting this iconic species.”
The Environment Canada designation followed a scientific report issued in February 2011 by COSEWIC, the federally-mandated Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
“Population models project that four of 13 subpopulations (including approximately 28 per cent of 15,500 polar bears in Canada) have a high risk of declining by 30 per cent or more over the next three polar bear generations (36 years),” the COSEWIC report stated. “Declines are partly attributed to climate change for Western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea, but are mostly due to unsustainable harvest in Kane Basin and Baffin Bay.”
At the time of the November announcement, the ITK said the “species of concern” listing “creates special new responsibilities” for Inuit to bring more traditional knowledge of polar bear populations into the process for creating a national management plan.
But the ITK added that over the past 20 years, “Inuit have observed a marked increase in polar bear numbers throughout Canada’s Arctic regions, and have become more concerned recently about this trend that is affecting the safety of Inuit communities.”