Canada is an Arctic country and is blessed with a richness of resources, the envy of many around the world. Amongst this richness is, of course, our polar bear population. We are home to approximately 16,000 of the estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears in the global Polar Regions. This means that roughly 2/3 of the world’s polar bears call Canada home. Therefore, we have a conservation responsibility that we take seriously.
Canada has a robust management system in place for conserving and managing our 13 subpopulations of polar bears spread across our wide Arctic. We have a National Conservation Strategy that has received support from provinces, territories and Wildlife Management Boards. And we work with them and Aboriginal groups/organizations and the other Range States (Norway, Greenland, Russia, United States) towards collaborative, coordinated management and conservation decisions.
In addition to being an important resource in and of itself, we also recognize that the polar bear is a critical element in the culture of our Northern communities. Polar bear hunting, the consumption of the meat, and the use of its products, such as hides, is important both from an economic and social consideration for many of our Northern communities. But of course people are rightly concerned about the sustainability of this majestic icon of the North. And we understand and embrace that concern. But as often happens, some of this concern is being fueled by misinformation.
As many of you know, certain members of Congress have reached out to Secretary Salazar to ask that international trade be banned. These are based on, what I would argue, are some misconceptions about polar bear populations and the polar bear hunt. Let me just clarify a few points for you:
1.) In those overtures to Secretary Salazar the tripling of the hunt quota for Western Hudson Bay bears was portrayed as an example of overharvesting, but no numbers were given. So let me give you the numbers tonight. The quota went from eight bears a year to 24. Twenty-one were actually taken that year – many of which were defensive kills. You will recall that ZI mentioned our total population is around 16,000.
2.) Another misconception is that the Government of Canada is not doing enough to support the polar bear population. Well, that’s not quite true, in fact, we invest nearly $2 million a year in monitoring and research in order to manage the bears in a system based on science and influenced by Inuit traditional knowledge. The Canadian polar bear management system is a benchmark for other polar bear countries, and we would be happy to put it head to head against any other country’s wildlife management program.
3.) Again there are those who think that by cutting international trade there will be a big impact on the polar bear population. Again, let me put this in perspective. Or, as your former President Clinton would say: let’s do the arithmetic. Let me remind you of the 16,000 population. Of that our total annual hunt quota is 600 bears a year, and that quota is seldom met. Only two percent of the total Canadian population of polar bears enter into international trade. TWO percent. International trade is not a threat to polar bears. Hunting by the Inuit and Inuvialuit is not a threat to polar bears. There are many factors that influence the health and size of the polar bear population. The international trade is not a significant influence. Uplisting bears will not improve or even impact conservation efforts. To focus on this is wrong-headed and diminishes the ability of our Northern peoples to put food on their table and bring much needed revenues to their families. How fair is this? It’s not like those of us in the south who have many options for supporting our livelihood.
So let me leave you with this message: Canada takes seriously our stewardship. We want to work with the US in a common approach – one that embraces the rigor of science, the wisdom of our Inuit traditional knowledge, and our shared commitment. Everyone in this room wants to ensure the sustainability of this majestic icon of the North.