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Truth Squad: No, It's not Okay to Hunt Polar Bears

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Threatened by climate change, polar bears also suffer from overhunting. Countries will vote on a U.S. proposal to outlaw the international trade in polar bear body parts at the March 2013 meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Canada opposes stronger protections, and distributed a fact sheet, below, to U.S. members of Congress. Elly Pepper, an NRDC legislative advocate, weighed in on these "facts."

Canada: Canada is home to approximately 16,000 polar bears, which is about two-thirds of the global population ... The overall Canadian polar bear population is stable and has been increasing slightly over time.

Elly Pepper: Only three of Canada's 13 polar bear populations are stable, while nine of them are declining. One very small population is increasing, but only because overhunting led to a quota reduction.

Canada: International commercial trade from Canada is about 2 percent and has remained at consistent and sustainable levels and is not a threat to polar bear populations.

Pepper: Polar bear specimens (claws, bones, bodies) exported from Canada for commercial purposes increased by 35 percent from 2001 to 2010. The wildlife trade has driven many species to the brink of extinction.

Canada: Northern Aboriginal people in Canada, such as the Inuit, have the constitutional right to manage and harvest the wildlife within their territories. Harvest quotas are based on principles of conservation and Aboriginal subsistence, and are not market-driven, but science-based. The annual harvest is around 600 bears or 3.75 percent of the total Canadian population and is often less than the established quotas.

Pepper: Local wildlife management boards set polar bear quotas. They consider scientific advice, but other factors as well, resulting in quotas well above scientific recommendations. As prices for polar bear hides have risen, so have quotas.

Canada: While polar bears may face habitat changes due to climate change and other factors, CITES cannot help protect the species from climate change.

Pepper: Climate change is the top threat to polar bears, but the global trade in parts is the second-biggest danger. To help species challenged by climate change, other stressors must be reduced. Canadian management ignores this.

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