Canada‘s Increased Hunting Quota Violates International Polar Bear Treaty
WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity, a U.S. conservation group, today filed a formal request with the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate trade sanctions against Canada for violating the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, a treaty among the five nations within the range of the polar bear. Over the objections of Environment Canada and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, the Canadian territory of Nunavut last fall quadrupled the number of polar bears to be hunted this season from the already-declining Western Hudson Bay population.
“The polar bear is already on an extinction trajectory because of global warming. Unsustainable hunting will push it over the edge,” said Brendan Cummings with the Center for Biological Diversity, which successfully petitioned and sued to protect polar bears under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. “If we want to keep polar bears in the world, we have to dramatically cut greenhouse emissions and also reduce all the other threats to its survival, including overhunting.”
The Western Hudson Bay polar bear population, which includes the bears who congregate near the Canadian town of Churchill each fall waiting for the ice to form, is among the most threatened by global warming and has declined dramatically in recent years: Only about 700 bears remain, down from almost 1,200 just two decades ago. In October, the territory of Nunavut increased the number of Western Hudson Bay polar bears that may be hunted from eight bears a year to 38.
The Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears prohibits polar bear hunting unless it comports with both “the best available scientific data” and “sound conservation practices.” In objecting to the quota increase, the Polar Bear Specialist Group, an international body made up of the world’s top polar bear researchers, said the hunt was “not sustainable,” “contrary” to the best science, and “contravenes the intent” of the Polar Bear Agreement.
Under a U.S. law referred to as the “Pelly Amendment,” the Center’s petition today asks the interior secretary to find that Canada’s continued hunting and polar bear trade “diminishes the effectiveness” of the Polar Bear Agreement. Upon such a finding, the secretary must then request that the president prohibit the import of Canadian wildlife products until the country comes into compliance with its treaty obligations.
“As the price and demand for polar bear skins increases, Canada continues to ignore the deep trouble polar bears are in,” said Cummings, noting Canada is the only country that still allows polar bear sport hunting. “As home to the majority of the world’s polar bears, Canada should be at the forefront of efforts to protect the species, not the biggest obstacle to the bears’ conservation.”
The Nunavut hunting decision was followed by Canada’s decision in November to deny the polar bear endangered status under the country’s Species At Risk Act.
Imports of polar bear skins into the United States are already prohibited under U.S. law. Sanctions implemented under the Pelly Amendment would prohibit the importation of other types of wildlife products from Canada.
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