Polar bear trade ban not needed: wildlife monitor

An international wildlife trade monitor has rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the international trade of polar bear products from countries like Canada, saying such a measure is not necessary.

An international wildlife trade monitor has rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the international trade of polar bear products from countries including Canada, saying such a measure is not necessary.

The United States is proposing to reclassify the polar bear under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to effectively outlaw all commercial trade in the animals.

The 175 countries that have signed the international treaty are expected to vote on the U.S. proposal when they meet in Doha, Qatar, in March.

But on Wednesday, the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC concluded that shrinking sea ice, caused by climate change, is the main threat polar bears face — not the trade of products from polar bears that are often harvested by aboriginal hunters, such as Inuit in northern Canada.

"It's saying climate change is the No. 1 threat to polar bears, and trade is not really a major threat," Craig Stewart, Arctic conservation director with WWF Canada, told CBC News on Wednesday.

"So it's said that the U.S. proposal did not meet the biological criteria needed to satisfy an uplisting assessment [under CITES]."

TRAFFIC, which is governed by a steering group consisting of members of the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, aims to ensure that the trade of wild animal and plant products does not threaten the conservation of nature, according to the organization's website.

The proposal from the U.S. government follows that country's decision in 2008 to list the polar bear as a threatened species, citing threats to the species by shrinking Arctic sea ice caused by climate change.

'Trade is not a significant threat'

About 300 polar bears from Canada — just two per cent of the bears' population — have been entering international trade each year since the 1990s, and commercial trade has not increased, according to TRAFFIC.

"Canada is the only country that currently allows commercial exports of polar bear parts and products, all of which result from aboriginal subsistence hunting," TRAFFIC's recommendation document says in part.

The monitor added that the large number of polar bears worldwide has not undergone a marked decline in the recent past, and " the projected rate of population decline as a result of climate change is estimated to be approximately 30 per cent over the next 45-50 years."

"Trade is not a significant threat to the species," the monitor's recommendation reads.

The recommendation from TRAFFIC comes as an Inuit land-claim organization in Nunavut has been gathering information to counter the U.S. proposal during the CITES meeting.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.has been encouraging Inuit to call a toll-free hotline to record their concerns about what many Inuit have said is an increase in the number of polar bears in their regions.

Raymond Ningeocheak, Nunavut Tunngavik's second vice-president, told CBC News he is happy that TRAFFIC is rejecting the proposed ban, but wished the organization had better acknowledged Inuit people's efforts to protect polar bears.

Speaking in Inuktitut, Ningeocheak said Nunavut has a polar bear management system, which includes a hunting quota system.

He added that the international debate surrounding polar bears perplexes Inuit because they've observed a growing, not shrinking, number of bears.