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    Northern Public Affairs

    Speca: A polar bear ban that doesn’t bear scrutiny

    A proposal to prohibit international commercial trade in polar bears would do little to protect an already well-protected animal further, but much to damage Inuit economic rights and interests, says Anthony Speca.
    Next week, beginning on March 3, the international community will formally consider a US proposal to apply the strictest possible controls on cross-border trade in the pelts and other parts of polar bears.  If this proposal is accepted, the not-yet-endangered polar bear will join presently endangered animals—elephants, pandas, whales and so on—listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  Trade in “Appendix I species” is permissible only in exceptional cases, such as for scientific research.  Trade for commercial purposes is prohibited.
    Polar bears are currently listed on Appendix II of CITES, which allows international commercial trade where the exporting country certifies the legality and sustainability of the harvest.  About 80% of polar bear products enter the international market from a single country—Canada, which is also home to a similarly large proportion of the world’s polar bears.  The US proposal to “uplist” polar bears under CITES looks unavoidably like an implicit indictment of Canadian polar bear management practices.
    The Canadian federal government treats polar bears as a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act.  Provincial and territorial governments restrict the polar bear hunt to Aboriginal peoples—particularly Inuit, whose homelands host the majority of the world’s polar bears, and who traditionally hunt them for food and fur.  To uplist polar bears would essentially be to ban Inuit from earning income from their hunt, either by selling polar bear pelts and other products internationally or—in communities offering a sport hunt—by outfitting and guiding foreigners who purchase quota to acquire trophies.  Inuit leaders have spoken out against the proposal.
    In fact, there seems to be little reason for the USA to worry that polar bears will be hunted to extinction to satisfy some unfettered international demand.  Continue Reading