Polar Bear Politics

By Terry Audla
November / December 2012
Iglulingmiut are having a hard time believing that the polar bear population is in decline. In a single day in October, 11 bears wandered into the Qikiqtaaluk community. Large, healthy – fearless – bears. That’s why it’s so alarming that the United States has once again launched a proposal to list polar bears on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Since the convention was drawn up back in 1973, the global polar bear population has increased.

That’s right. The population has increased. Appendix I is a list of the most endangered species in the world. Species, such as pandas, you aren’t likely to see peering into a kitchen window. Appendix I is an effective ban on international trade. Appendix II, under which polar bears are currently listed, provides for controlled, or managed, trade.

And Canada is a world leader in polar bear management, research, monitoring and conservation. Canadian Inuit are world leaders in polar bear management, research, monitoring and conservation.

The Canadian Arctic is home to some 16,000 polar bears, roughly two-thirds of the global population. Inuit live among polar bears.They are an integral part of our culture, our lives and our future. Their strength in numbers is directly related to ours. Since the 1970s, Canada has maintained a system of sustainable harvest management in partnership with communities and implemented through agreements and quotas.

Harvest quotas are based on principles of conservation and Aboriginal subsistence – they are not market- or trade-driven. In fact, the actual harvest level is often less than established quota. Only two per cent of the polar bear population (300 bears) enters the market each year.

In September, I met with Senators and Members of Congress in Washington D.C., along with representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Inuvialuit Game Council, the Government of Nunavut and the Government of Canada.

We countered opinions with fact and defended what is ultimately at stake here:our knowledge, our way of life, and the truth itself.

The last time the U.S. proposed uplisting, in 2010, states rejected the motion because they were not convinced uplisting would produce any actual conservation benefits.

And that is precisely the point.There is not a scientist who would argue that the evidence warrants uplisting. In fact, many would argue that a ban on trade is merely a distraction preventing solid action to address climate change. The cost of that distraction will be shouldered by Inuit.

It is disingenuous at best to seek a ban on trade that not only does not help polar bear conservation efforts, but actually harms Inuit. No new information has appeared since 2010 that would indicate that an Appendix I listing is now required. If anything, new data from areas such as Western Hudson Bay indicates exactly the opposite.

In March 2013, the U.S. proposal will go to vote before 176 member states in Bangkok, Thailand. Canada has a voice. But more importantly, you have a voice. We have a voice.

And we must use our voices to fight false conservation efforts. We must use our voices to speak the truth.

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