CITES to eye international ban on polar bear trade

Environment Canada report could be crucial

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

Inuit organizations finally woke up to speak out against a proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that could kill the polar bear sports hunt in Nunavut.

The proposal, announced Oct. 16, which would lead to a ban on trade in polar bear trophies, ignores “the demonstrated ability of Inuit to manage their own resources wisely and sustainably,” said Duane Smith, president of Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada.

The U.S. agency plans to submit its proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species when the group meets in Qatar next March.

“Limiting commercial trade in this species will address a source of non-climate stress to polar bear populations, and contribute to long-term recovery,” said a news release from the wildlife agency.

Its proposal would see the polar bear moved up from CITES’s appendix II to appendix I.

Species on Appendix I are considered threatened by extinction, and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species.

“Canadian Inuit are successfully managing their polar bear populations without interference from the USA government or special interest groups,” Smith said in an Oct. 16 news release.

“Canadian polar bear populations are currently healthy. If, in the future, they are threatened, the management bodies would review their processes and adjust accordingly. We should let them do their job,” Smith said.

Tourists and sport hunters who sometimes accompany Inuit in regulated polar bear sports hunts provide important income for entire communities and have no effect on the quotas set to maintain healthy bear populations, Smith said.

“The USA proposal challenges our right as Inuit to sustainably exercise our traditional rights and practices to harvest polar bears. We are becoming an endangered species ourselves.”

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. also sent out a news release on Oct. 16, noting its opposition to the U.S. proposal to up-list the polar bear’s status.

“If the proposal is passed, it will have a devastating effect on our communities. Inuit understand the importance of conservation of the polar bear because the animal is so important to our society, culture and economy, the same was the automobile is to the American society and economy,” said NTII vice-president Raymond Nincheocheak.

“We do not want to be further restricted beyond the quota systems that we have been participating in now for a number of decades,” said Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, in an ITK news release, also issued Oct. 16.

But none of these groups acknowledge that an upcoming report from Environment Canada will also play into CITES’s eventual decision whether or not to support the U.S. proposal that would stop international trade in all polar bear trophies.

Under CITES, Environment Canada is responsible for evaluating whether the export of a species from Canada will be detrimental or not to its survival in the wild.

Its report, referred to as a “non-detriment finding,” is not supposed to be affected by socio-economic considerations — even if the value of the sports polar bear hunt to Nunavut has been estimated at about $2.9 million each year.

The department may decide make a negative “non-detriment finding” to CITES on the export of polar bear trophies from some polar bear populations in Nunavut — such as the Baffin Bay, where environment minister Jim Prentice wanted the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to recommend a lower quota.

Canada would be in a much stronger position to argue against the proposal if it looks as if Canada is “managing issues of conservation concern such as overharvest,” Prentice wrote the NWMB.

Environment Canada has to make a positive recommendation on the impact of the polar bear hunt in certain areas of Nunavut for Canada to legally issue an export permit for polar bear products, including skin, fur, claws, skulls and stuffed animals, from those areas.

A negative “non-detriment finding” would mean that the trade in these hides and trophies may harm the species’ survival.

CITES rulings already restrict the trade of 800 species close to extinction, such as tigers, great apes, certain parrots, certain species of orchids and cacti, and some timber species.

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