Reject polar bear trade ban, Nunavut urges

Nunavut's environment minister is asking leaders around the world to vote against a U.S. proposal that would ban the commercial trade of products derived from polar bears.

Nunavut's environment minister is asking leaders around the world to vote against a U.S. proposal that would ban the global commercial trade of products derived from polar bears.

Daniel Shewchuk has written to the 175 countries that have signed the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), as they prepare to vote on the U.S. proposal later this month in Doha, Qatar.

The Nunavut government objects to the proposed trade ban, arguing that polar bear populations in the North are not in danger of extinction.

"We have related our position through Environment Canada and the rest of the country, but I have also personally written a letter to all 175 countries on this issue," Shewchuk told reporters in Iqaluit on Tuesday.

"I explained how our management of polar bears does work and how important it is and how we feel that there is a very healthy population of polar bears in Nunavut."

The United States is calling for the polar bear to be reclassified as an Appendix One species, meaning that species would be considered to be threatened with extinction.

The polar bear is currently listed as a less severe Appendix Two species under CITES. A reclassification to Appendix One would effectively ban all commercial sale of products derived from the animals, such as hides.

Ban could affect sport hunt

The CITES secretariat has indicated it would encourage member nations not to support the U.S. proposal because there is not enough evidence to support changing the species' listing.

Secretariat officials have told CBC News that a reclassification of the polar bear would not affect Nunavut's lucrative polar bear sport hunting industry, as long as hunters do not sell their trophies.

But Eugene Lapointe, a former CITES secretary general who now heads up the World Conservation Trust, said the U.S. proposal could still affect the northern sport hunt if it is passed.

The polar bear's current listing as an Appendix Two species means only an export permit is needed from Canada. If the species moves up to Appendix One, Lapointe said both Canada and the country of import would have to issue trade permits.

Some countries may be hesitant to issue import permits if the polar bear is considered to be on the brink of extinction, Lapointe said.

"It would be a very serious danger here, an Appendix One listing for hunting trophies," he told CBC News.

Shewchuk said he is starting to sense growing opposition to the U.S. trade ban proposal, noting that Russia and other member countries plan to vote against it.

The 175 member countries, including Canada, will vote on the proposal when they meet in Doha on March 13 to 25.

The U.S. needs two-thirds of the CITES membership to vote in favour of the proposal in order for it to pass.