Polar bear trade ban wouldn't affect sport hunt

Some northerners are relieved to hear a U.S. proposal to ban the international trade of polar bear products would not affect the sport hunting industry in Canada's North.

Some northerners are relieved to hear a U.S. proposal to ban the international trade of polar bear products would not affect the sport hunting industry in Canada's North.

The United States is asking the 175 countries that signed the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to reclassify the polar bear as a species threatened with extinction.

If approved, it would effectively ban all commercial sale of products derived from polar bears, such as hides.

But officials with the CITES secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, said the current U.S. proposal would not affect Canada's polar bear sport hunt as long as hunters do not sell their trophies afterwards.

The possibility of an international ban led to concerns from Nunavut and N.W.T. sport hunting guides, who are paid to take hunters out to hunt polar bears. The guides are worried about what impact an international trade ban would have on their businesses.

"Having polar bear sport hunters is good for us because it brings in income for people in the community," Martha Kalluk, who runs an outfitting business with her husband in the High Arctic community of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, told CBC News.

Business dropped

Kalluk said their business already took a severe hit in 2008, when the polar bear was declared a threatened species in the U.S. As a result, American hunters were banned from bringing their polar bear hunting trophies back home.

Kalluk said she and her husband used to lead about 20 sport hunts a year before the 2008 ban came into place. That number has since dropped to 10, she said, with most of their clients now coming from Canada and Europe.

Nunavut regulates its polar bear hunt, setting quotas for various groups.

Stephen Nash, the CITES secretariat's chair of capacity building, said there are examples around the world where well-managed sport hunts can help conserve wildlife populations, often in poor communities.

"These hunts can bring a lot of conservation benefits by bringing in a lot of money to the communities," Nash said.

In Africa and Asia, for example, a well-managed sport hunt can actually encourage people to take care of the species, he added.

Could reduce number of bears killed

James Goudie, wildlife manager with the Nunatsiavut government in Labrador, agreed that sport hunting can actually reduce the number of bears killed in an area each year.

In Nunavut, for example, each community that takes part in the polar bear hunt gets a specific quota of hunting tags each year. Community officials then decide how many, if any, of those tags would be used for sport hunts.

If a sport hunter does not end up taking a bear, then the tag cannot be reused, and community members would not be able to hunt that bear.

"But if they do eradicate the sport hunt, it just goes to the overall [hunting] quota, and chances are that bear will be killed then by a [land-claim] beneficiary of that area."

Goudie said there are no sport hunts in Newfoundland and Labrador, and people there are allowed to hunt only six polar bears a year, but he does support the sport hunt as it is managed in northern Canada.

The CITES secretariat is recommending that the 175 countries vote against the U.S. proposed ban, saying there isn't sufficiently compelling evidence that the polar bear population has significantly declined.

The member countries, including Canada, will vote on the proposal when they meet in Doha, Qatar, in mid-March.

Even though the proposed ban would not affect sport hunts in the North, Goudie and other Canadian representatives say they plan to fight the proposal in Doha on the basis that polar bears are not on the brink of extinction.