The Polar Bear range states this week in Moscow during the meeting on the 1973 Polar Bear Agreement in Moscow made some important steps towards enhancing polar bear conservation. But with scientists estimating that two-thirds of polar bears are expected to disappear over the next 45 years, these countries must do more, and soon, if we hope to outpace sea ice loss and save this species.
The good news is that the range states made some important commitments – perhaps most notably for our work, to undertake efforts to understand supply chain dynamics for polar bear hides and create a new database to improve the clarity of legal trade data. We know that the legal trade in polar bear parts is skyrocketing, with the number of hides offered at auction in Canada more than tripling in the past seven years. But we need more information to fully address this problem and hopefully these actions will help with that.
The range states also committed to ensuring that environmental regulations and standards are put in place to protect polar bears potentially affected by industrial development.
The bad news is that, while the range states had planned to finalize and adopt a Circumpolar Action Plan for polar bears to guide conservation efforts at this week’s meeting, they failed to do so – pushing its finalization date to the 2015 Range State meeting.
Also, despite the fact that the Polar Bear Agreement was signed in 1973 to address unsustainable hunting that, at the time, threatened the polar bear’s survival, discussion of sustainable harvest was extremely limited. With Canadian harvest quotas increasing, along with polar bear hide prices (which reached a record $22,000 this year) and demand, this is an issue the range states just can’t afford to ignore.
The climate is warming quickly. The trade in polar bear parts is increasing. Big Oil is targeting much of the polar bears’ home. In other words, the threats to polar bears become more serious by the day. Hopefully, this agreement, when implemented, will help address these challenges, but the range states must take many more additional steps if we’re going to protect the polar bear. We are dealing with the likely extinction of a species. We can’t do enough.