Today I wish to applaud the Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wildlife and Flora (CITES) for voting against a US-Russia sponsored proposition to up-list the polar bear from an Appendix II to an Appendix I species. Such an act would have unnecessarily negatively impacted the livelihoods of Canadian Inuit. I would also like to thank Minister Kent and the Ministry of the Environment for their support of this cause, the Inuit Tapirit Kanatami (ITK) for their continuing efforts on behalf of the Inuit they represent and the World Wildlife Fund for their support in opposing this proposition.
On March 6, a CITES committee voted against this proposition due to the fact that assertions by the US, conservation groups and other states supporting the proposition are not in line with the scientific data available. Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild International, said after the CITES decision was announced that 800 polar bears are killed a year and that “prices for polar bear pelts have doubled over the last few years, and the signs are that trade is increasing. All the evidence says that it is unsustainable.”
In truth, honourable senators, Canadian polar bears are harvested in subsistence hunts. Quotas are adjusted annually based on data from population monitoring systems implemented by the Canadian government and Inuit traditional knowledge (Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit or IQ). These quotas ensure that the total number of polar bears hunted is equal to 3.5% of the Canadian population, or approximately 560 bears. Only 2% are exported on the free market or 300 per year. The Inuit have long used the polar bear to feed their families. Banning the international trade of polar bear products would not affect the number of bears harvested but would, instead, affect the ability of Inuit to use the monies from the sale of non-food products such as pelts and teeth to pay for clothing and other necessities.
A last minute EU amendment proposed by Ireland to keep the polar bear on Appendix II but to have CITES imposed quotas as opposed to the current Inuit-generated quotas was also rejected as it would have cast doubt on Canada’s existing regulations and had severe repercussions on indigenous rights to self-determination and settled land claims agreements.
This is the second proposition made of this nature in the last three years. Misinformed outside agencies continue to draw direct correlations between Canadian subsistence harvesting and a perceived decline in the polar bear population despite the fact that the Canadian polar bear population has steadily increased since the 1970s and the fact that the world’s population has officially remained at 20 – 25,000 since 2005 according to the Polar Bear Specialist Group.
Honourable senators, the authors of this misguided proposition are attempting to exploit the polar bear to further their political agendas with regard to global warming at the expense of Inuit food and economic security. I urge you to help protect and preserve the Inuit right to hunt and trade the polar bear which is fundamental to their social, cultural and economic well-being. Thank you.