A big loss for polar bears -- with a small silver lining

Polar bear (Tim Knepp, USFWS)

You may have heard the news, but early this morning we got word that the nations meeting at the Convention on International Trade Endangered Species (CITES) rejected an United States proposal, supported and encouraged by NRDC, that would have ended the international commercial trade in polar bears and strengthened the regulation of polar bear sports hunting.

My colleague Zak Smith is in Doha, Qatar, and has been blogging about our fight for polar bears (you can read his posts here, here, and here).

There’s no doubt about it, the vote was a big loss.  Canada alone takes about 300 polar bears for international trade and sports hunting each year—this is an unsustainable and unnecessary stress on the population.  And the Canadian populations are particularly important to the fate of the bear.  At the end of the day, our loss was the result of the failure of the European Union to vote to protect polar bears.  It’s a particularly frustrating outcome, given that both the European Parliament and the European Commission had formally supported increased protections.

But I comfort myself that some good did come out of the process.  As the result of the U.S. proposal, Canada significantly cut back on its polar bear quotas, in a (successful, as it turns out) attempt to head off further CITES restrictions.  In the Baffin Bay, for example, Canada recently announced that it was going to cut it total quota from 105 bears to 65 bears over the next four years.  Over the phase-in period alone, that’s 100 bears that won’t be shot thanks to our efforts.  A lot of the credit goes to NRDC’s members and activists who have been incredibly active in making their voice heard to both the Canadian and the U.S. governments.

In the coming days our polar bear team will regroup and figure out the best way to continue the fight.  There are still measures that the CITES convention can take to reduce polar bear trade and there are other international agreements and strategies we will be taking a close look at.  Stay tuned…this fight is far from over.