No Time for the US to Be on the Fence about Global Protections for Polar Bears

polar bears (Photo by NOAA)

Last week, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is undecided about whether it should propose protecting polar bears from the threat of international trade at the next Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  We hope the Obama Administration will use the next two months (the comment period on its announcement) to move from “undecided” to actively supporting greater protections for polar bears by proposing a ban on the international trade in polar bear parts.

Two years ago, the Obama Administration led the charge at the last CITES Conference  of the Parties, urging a ban on the international commercial trade in polar bear parts.  While the proposal didn’t receive the level of international support necessary for a ban, now’s not the time to back down.  With the polar bear’s plight getting worse over the last two years – record prices for polar bear skins, unsustainable harvest of polar bears in Canada (the only country that still allows the killing of polar bears for international trade), and new evidence of polar bears being ravaged as their habitat melts away – the US should be doubling its efforts to gain protection for polar bears at CITES, taking the polar bear’s case to the world.

With the very survival of polar bears on our planet in doubt as a consequence of climate change, we must strengthen populations so they will have the best chance of surviving until we stabilize the global climate.  Scientists, governments, and the public understand that climate change will be devastating to polar bears; the best scientific estimates show polar bear populations plummeting by two-thirds within the next 40 years.  Polar bears will likely cease to exist in the wild in four of the five countries where they are currently found: Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States.  Fortunately, we can strengthen polar bear populations by ending the international trade in polar bear parts, which is driving unsustainable harvest in Canada and poaching in Russia.

While the US Fish and Wildlife Service still believes that the polar bear meets the criteria for greater protection under CITES (listing on Appendix I), it remains “undecided” as to whether it will once again lead the charge for greater global protection.  But at this critical juncture in the story of the polar bear’s survival on our planet, the US must take decisive action for polar bears at the next CITES Conference of the Parties, working with potentially like-minded polar bear range states, like Russia, to ban the international trade in polar bear skins, teeth, claws, and skulls once and for all.

Join us in urging the Obama Administration to propose greater protections for polar bears at the next CITES Conference of the Parties and to build a winning coalition to guarantee passage of the proposal.  Go to www.PolarBearSOS.org to take action now.

About the Authors

Zak Smith

Senior Attorney, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land & Wildlife Program

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