Serious Trade Concerns about Polar Bears Loom at Outset of CoP 16

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Three years ago, the parties to CITES soundly rejected a U.S. proposal to up-list the polar bear to Appendix I at the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15). The U.S. again is asking the parties to consider the up-listing, this time with support by Russia. The up-listing proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the first high-profile trade restriction dealing with a game species at the 2013 CoP 16 that began in Bangkok, Thailand on March 3.

Sustainable use and continued trade of polar bears was affirmed during the 2010 CoP15, and Safari Club International (SCI) and Safari Club International Foundation (SCI Foundation) are standing behind Canada, Norway, and Denmark (representing Greenland) to again reject the latest effort by the FWS to eliminate trade.

“The up-listing of polar bears to Appendix I is unwarranted. The science-driven decisions made at CITES a few years ago should be preserved. Up-listing should not be utilized for purposes of political gamesmanship,” said Joe Hosmer, President of the SCI Foundation. “The proposed up-listing by the FWS is based on suggestive prediction models, rather than actual research regarding trade of the species.”

Canada, Norway, Greenland are home to 98% of the world’s polar bear population, with more than 16,000 polar bears in Canada alone. Based on scientifically established quotas, unrelated to international trade, only 600 bears are harvested annually in Canada.  Canada has extensive monitoring and conservation programs that protect the species, including through sustainable use by Inuit communities. Canada’s First Nations coexist with polar bears, harvest the bears for subsistence purposes, and value the bear’s conservation even more because of limited sport hunting by non-natives that brings much needed cash to the remote communities. This sustainable use has given them intimate knowledge of polar bear population dynamics and ecological needs. According to the scientific evidence, confirmed by local members of the communities, the polar bear has enjoyed a significant increase in the population over the past 40 years, not a decline as portrayed by some.

Despite these facts, special interest organizations like Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Natural Resources Defense Council have preached the impending doom of the species. Worse, they claim that limited international trade of sustainably harvested polar bears is harming polar bear conservation. In fact, this trade benefits members of the local communities, who then support science-based conservation even more. As the annual hunting quotas are based on sustainability, and a trade ban will not decrease the number of bears harvested for subsistence purposes, an up-listing of the polar bear to Appendix I will provide no conservation benefit and will undermine the people who must co-exist with the bear on a daily basis.

Stay tuned in to SCI and SCI Foundation’s updates (on Twitter and Facebook) about the continuing trade negotiations that are occurring at the CITES 16th Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Bangkok, Thailand. Learn about the positions SCI and SCI Foundation have taken at or here on the blog:

Scott Schliebe USFWS
Scott Schliebe USFWS

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