No Surprise: Unsustainable Polar Bear Hunt in Canada

A little over a year ago, the international community rejected a US proposal to ban the international trade of polar bear parts at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  At that time, I posted a blog about the rejection, entitled “CITES to World: Get Your Polar Bear Rugs While You Can,” pointing out that failing to strengthen polar bear populations now, by limiting stressors on polar bear populations (such as international trade), was short sighted given the indisputable threat to the survival of polar bears from climate change in the Arctic.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the world got CITES’ message:  for the past two weeks, reports out of Canada have documented a surging and unsustainable polar bear hunt in Quebec, Canada, driven by soaring international demand for polar bear hides.

To defeat the CITES proposal, Canada sold the delegates a bill of goods, claiming that Canadian killings of polar bears are sustainable, based on principles of conservation and that the killings are not market-driven.  But when it comes to species conservation, Canadian claims should face tough scrutiny.  The fact is that Canada has a poor record when it comes to endangered species, often putting economic and local political interests ahead of saving species.  Its management of polar bears is a perfect example, with numerous Canadian polar bear populations threatened by overharvest, leading the European Union to ban the import of polar bear specimens derived from the unsustainable harvest of polar bears from Canada and Greenland’s Kane Basin and Baffin Bay populations.

Now, Europe may have to add imports from another polar bear population that was previously considered stable to its ban (note that the US listing of polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act bans any import of polar bear parts from Canada).  In recent years, hunters in Quebec killed, on average, fewer than four polar bears per year.  This year, since January, hunters in the region have killed at least 60 polar bears as the demand for polar bear hides soars.  Commenting on the killings, Dr. Ian Sterling, a polar bear researcher in Alberta, said, “For it to jump up to 60 indicates that there’s a quick buck to be made and people are going out and simply shooting large numbers of bears with no foresight to the future, or the sustainability, or what is happening to the population and it’s very concerning.”

He’s right, it is very concerning.  It’s concerning to those who want to save polar bears from extinction, it’s concerning to other Canadian hunters who rely on the sustainable harvest of polar bears, and it should be concerning to anyone who trusted Canada to responsibly manage its polar bear populations.

There’s nothing that feels good about this “I told you so.”

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