Ban On Polar Bear Trade Blocked
March 7, 2013

After Heated Debates, International Group Blocks Ban On Polar Bear Trade

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

After a long and heated debate, a US-proposed ban on the trade of polar bear parts was voted down on Thursday at a major international conference on wildlife trade.

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand, the American delegation proposed the polar bear be upgraded to Appendix 1 protection status, which would completely ban the trade or sale of the animal´s pelts, paws or fangs.

“We are obviously disappointed that the CITES membership failed to give greater protection to polar bears by limiting permissible trade in polar bear pelts and other body parts,” David J. Hayes, a deputy secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, said in a statement.

The defeat was seen as a victory for Canada´s native Inuit population, who view the bears as an important source of income. These native hunters kill an estimated 600 polar bears annually. According to Inuit officials, about 300 bear pelts are sold for rugs at an average of $4,800 each, making the trade a million-dollar industry for a community that has few other commercial and economic prospects.

Terry Audla, who represented the indigenous peoples of Canada at the conference made an emotional plea against the ban.

"A ban would affect our ability to buy the necessities of life, to clothe our children,” Audla said. “We have to protect our means of putting food on the table and selling polar bear hides enables us to support ourselves.

"This is how we make our living; this is how we put food on the table,” he added. “And for the rest of the world to suggest that how we manage the polar bear is not right is a slap in the face —  but the decision that was made today shows we are doing the right thing."

At times the debate grew contentious, with Audla accusing conservation groups of misrepresenting the truth. Some representatives accused both sides of being duplicitous.

One theory floated by opponents of the ban, including Audla, said the US move to ban the trade of bear parts was an attempt to compensate for a less proactive climate change policy within the international community and to raise climate change awareness within the country´s own borders.

"The US is using the polar bear as a blunt tool to bring about climate change concerns — it is the perfect poster child,” Audla said.

While most nations agree polar bear populations are declining, CITES rules require a certain rate of decline for an animal to qualify for protection status, more than 50 percent over 45 years in the case of the polar bear. The world´s largest conservation organization, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said the decline would be closer to 30 percent.

One surprise supporter of the ban was Russia — one of the US´s most frequent antagonists in sundry geopolitical affairs. Greenland and Norway — both of which have large polar bear populations — cast influential votes against the ban.

In place of an all out ban, a compromise proposal was put forward by the European Union that would have established export quotas on bear parts and a restrictive tagging system to protect the bears and regulate hunting levels. However, that measure was also voted down.

The decision comes less than a week after the US government won an important court ruling which found that the Bush administration had acted reasonably when it decided to list the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.