Inuit applaud U.S. decision not to push polar bear trade restrictions
'What needs to happen next is to make the world understand...the polar bear is OK,' says Nunavut minister
Nunavut and Nunavik organizations say the United States's decision to back off this year from actively pushing tougher restrictions on the trade of polar bears is good news for Inuit.
"I'm very thankful," said Adamie Delisle Alaku, executive vice-president at Makivik Corporation.
"There's not a lot of economic opportunities in the North. For some hunters this is the only means for them to have a little bit of an income and it also feeds our families."
The U.S. has been vocal in the past about its bid to uplist polar bears under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Proposals to uplist polar bear from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I had previously been submitted to the CITES Conference of the Parties in Doha, Qatar in 2010 and in Bangkok, Thailand in 2013.
These proposals, which would have effectively banned international trade in polar bear skins and other parts, were defeated by efforts by Canadian Inuit and the Governments of Canada, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories.
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This year, no uplist proposal has been submitted to the next Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sept. 24 to Oct. 5.
Inuit have been campaigning for years to show that "Canada's decision for harvesting and trading is sound," said Delisle Alaku.
"We're seeing a lot of bears; they're in good health, they have good body conditions. We're also seeing polar bears with cubs.
He said it is the management regimes used by Inuit in Canada that has produced these results.
"When you're meeting with people that have no notion of the Arctic and how we live — just the fact that we eat polar bears is sometimes shocking to some people.
"So we just explain to them that we live with these animals and practise our conservation for millennia."
Groups from all four Inuit regions have been meeting with various U.S. officials to make this case. In February they were in Washington speaking to government officials about this file.
Between the last Conference of the Parties in 2013 and the April 2016 deadline for submissions of proposals for this year's Conference, Makivik Corporation and Inuit from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, and Nunatsiavut, as well as Environment Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Government of Nunavut heavily lobbied various foreign government agencies and animal rights non-governmental organizations.
Delisle Alaku said he hopes that at the conference in Johannesburg there will be the opportunity to promote using traditional knowledge when making decisions on the polar bear trade.
'The polar bear is OK'
"What needs to happen next is to make the world understand that the polar bear is OK," said Nunavut Environment Minister Johnny Mike.
Mike said polar bears in Nunavut are abundant, and populations are growing regardless of the challenges of climate change.
"[The] polar bear is very adaptable to climate change," he said. "[The] polar bear can survive in winter or summer, whether there's ice or not."
He said the success of the polar bear populations in Nunavut is due to successful co-management efforts in the territory.
"We do know how to deal with the challenge of climate change along with the wildlife here."
The minister said that his next goal is to "open up more markets to the polar bear trade."