Inuit head to Brussels to defend polar bear hunt

European Parliament looking at resolution supporting an international trade ban


A polar bear and her two cubs run across the ice in the Northwest Passage. (FILE PHOTO)

A polar bear and her two cubs run across the ice in the Northwest Passage. (FILE PHOTO)

Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Amalie Jessen, Greenland’s minister of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, will be in Brussels to defend the Inuit polar bear hunt and the polar bear management in Canada and Greenland on Dec. 6.

That’s when members of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development will hold a session to look at their resolution which calls for an international trade ban on polar bears.

The resolution, which is non-binding but still carries clout, calls for polar bears to be up-listed as endangered next March when the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora meets in Thailand.

That CITES up-listing, a move which the United States and Russia already support, would ban international polar bear trade.

In 2010, CITES determined that polar bears did not meet up-listing criteria.

But the resolution now in front of the European Parliament committee, which also deals with species like the rhinoceros, tuna and Manta rays, says the polar bear should be up-listed to Appendix I, a list that’s reserved for species threatened with extinction and vulnerable to international trade.

The resolution says “hunting and significant commercial trade in polar bear parts pose a serious and immediate threat to polar bears (Ursus maritimus), which are already threatened through climate change.”

And it “urges the Commission and the EU Member States to support the following proposals: the transfer of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I, as proposed by the USA and supported from the Russian Federation.”

The committee members have been looking at “the status of polar bears and the appropriate level of protection under CITES” with “key experts” in the presence of members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, EU representatives, and stakeholders.

Nunavut environment minister James Arreak went in front of the committee on Nov. 20 where he defended the hunt as “crucially important” to Nunavut.

Reports say Arreak told those at the committee session that “the polar bear does not meet the criteria for listing.”

That’s because only 300 polar bears, or two per cent of the Canadian polar bear population, enters the international trade annually, he said.

And preventing this trade by uplisting polar bears “would have no conservation benefit,” Arreak said, because polar bears are not “threatened with extinction.”

“The polar bear does not have a small wild population, it does not have a restricted area of distribution and no marked decline has been observed,” he said.

So international trade is not a threat to polar bears, and the species does not meet the biological criteria for being for Appendix 1 listing, he said.

The WWF has also come out against the European Parliament committee’s resolution saying concerns can be adequately addressed within the provisions of the current Appendix II listing, backed up by existing international agreements and national legislation.

Canada’s polar bear management is also coming under scrutiny from another group which looks at environmental issues under the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Canada, the United States and Mexico formed in 1994.

Canada has 30 to 60 days to respond to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation about a submission from an American environmental group which alleges Canada has failed to protect polar bears under its Species at Risk Act.

The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation issued a determination Nov. 29 asking Canada to respond to a submission from the Center for Biological Diversity.

In its submission, the Center says Canada is failing to effectively enforce its Species at Risk Act “by failing to list the polar bear in a timely manner as a threatened or endangered species, thus denying the bear any substantive legal protections under SARA.”

The Center alleges that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, “failed to consider the best available information about the status of the polar bear in Canada.”

And it says that, based on COSEWIC’s recommendation, Canada listed the polar bear as a species of special concern rather than a threatened or endangered species.

The Center says that the “proper listing would have afforded greater protection to polar bears and their critical habitat.”

It also says Canada failed to meet deadlines in making its listing decision.

The 2011 listing of polar bears as special concern under the Species of Risk Act means a management plan must be prepared by 2014 to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.

Drikus Gissing, the Government of Nunavut’s director of wildlife management, has previously told Nunatsiaq News the GN is collaborating with the federal government on a national polar bear conservation strategy as well as its own polar bear management plans.

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