By Dr. Becker
Would it surprise you to know that our neighbor to the north, Canada, is the only country that still allows polar bears to be hunted for their skins and other body parts? It’s sad, but true -- Canada permits the bears to be killed for profit, despite mounting evidence that climate change is driving them toward extinction.
Fortunately, according to Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Canada’s proverbial open season on polar bears is about to come under scrutiny by the international community.
Canada Called on Carpet to Justify Polar Bear Management Practices
At a meeting earlier in the year of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the UK and Norway pushed for a review of Canada’s trade in polar bear parts in light of concerns that killing bears from vulnerable populations could further endanger the species.
Fearing Canada’s management of polar bear populations is unsustainable, the European Union has placed a ban on imports from two Canadian bear populations in Kane Basin and Baffin Bay. In 2008, the US listed polar bears under the Endangered Species Act, effectively banning all commercial and trophy imports from Canada.
An international review will require Canada to show, number one, how the killing of polar bears for profit is not harming threatened populations. Number two, the country must prove it controls exports in a way that “preserves polar bear populations throughout their range at levels consistent with their role in the ecosystem.”
Smith believes the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations, coupled with rising demand and prices for polar bear parts, will make it difficult for Canada to justify its current management of the species. And even the country’s own scientists are concerned. A leading polar bear expert at the University of Alberta, Andrew Derocher, believes Canada is out of step with the rest of the world as bear hunters push to increase quotas. “It is going to be a challenge to convince the international community that our science is strong enough to support these increases,” Derocher says.
The US, Russia and Norway Must Pressure Canada to Do More to Protect Polar Bears
The review procedure conducted by the international community involves identifying species like polar bears that may be at risk from international trade, and also identifying problems and solutions to achieve effective management of trade. According to Smith, sometimes the process works, and other times it doesn’t. Much depends on how aggressively the CITES Animals Committee handles “self-serving” submissions from countries looking to defend and maintain current management practices.
Smith fears Canada’s submission for review will be lacking based on the country’s roundly criticized record on climate change, and territorial wildlife managers who reject evidence that climate change is harming polar bears, while simultaneously setting quotas for how many bears can be hunted and killed.
Smith says it will be up to other countries with polar bear populations, like the US, Russia and Norway, to push back on “unsubstantiated assertions and management decisions that veer from accepted conservation standards.” The US and Russia are strong CITES advocates for polar bears, and Smith says both countries must continue to demand greater protection for the bears through the review process.