14 January 2008

Three USA-based environmental groups – including Greenpeace – have set in motion a litigation process against the USA Government because of delays in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decision on whether to list the Polar bear as threatened.

In June 2007, ICC Canada President, Duane Smith, upon request of the USFWS, submitted a peer review of the USA Petition and proposed rule to list the polar bear as threatened throughout its range.

The key point made by Mr Smith was that management bodies are currently more than capable of regulating polar bear harvesting, and take into account many variables including effects of climate change into their decision-making process. He also noted that the proposed petition was flawed, biased, and incomplete.

The current action by US-based environment groups is an attempt to subvert the polar bear conversation process.

These activists are using polar bears as a strategy or icon within a global environmental struggle which is about climate change, not polar bears.

This action takes no account of the severe impact such a listing would have on Inuit communities throughout the Arctic, nor is it based on fact.

This action leads one to conclude that the groups see the polar bear as more important than Inuit. There is no recognition that Inuit people have managed the conservation of polar bears very successfully for millennia, and that they continue to do so.

Mr. Smith made the following points in the June 2007 peer review:
ICC opposes the listing of polar bears as threatened throughout its range.

There is no clear evidence that polar bears are an endangered species in the foreseeable future – an assertion which is inherent in the proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA).

USFWS has already acknowledged that they needed to do further analysis to assess the reliability of the relevant scientific models used in assessing whether polar bears are, in fact, endangered.

ICC is very concerned with the lack of regard given to the effectiveness of the management bodies that oversee polar bear harvesting. Polar bear populations throughout the circumpolar regions are protected and managed co-operatively and sustainably under various agreements and instruments at regional, national and international levels.

The USFWS proposed rule is full of red herrings. For example, it acknowledged that the management bodies were capable, yet there were inadequate regulatory mechanisms to address sea ice recession. Management bodies have no mandate to deal with sea ice recession. Their job is to set quotas and issue directives to maintain healthy polar bear populations. They do this annually by taking into account all the variables including the health of polar bear habitats. If polar bear population numbers are down in a particular location for any reason, including climate, this is taken into account by the body in determining quotas.

About 70 per cent of the world’s 20,000-25,000 polar bears are found in Canada.

If this listing goes ahead, Inuit will be hurt badly. That is a fact. The proposed ruling will reduce a very important source of income for Inuit communities. Some American sport hunters accompany our Inuit hunters in their harvest of the set annual quotas. In some instances, they take the harvested polar bear hide back to the USA. The rest is left for community members and no part of the polar bear is wasted. This hunt is an essential source of income for our communities.

The climate will in all likelihood continue to change. That is also a fact. What is not yet known is the degree to which polar bears will be affected.

ICC Canada’s position is that existing polar bear management will be able to take climate change effects into account in managing polar bear populations sustainably.