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Polar Bear Range States Meeting in Moscow This Week

Alex Kennaugh

Posted December 3, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Remembering the 60's brings to mind shag carpets, shaggier haircuts, and the Beatles. You might be wondering what that has to do with polar bears?

The era of free love also saw the advent of snowmobiles that took people to icy places that they'd never been before. Coupled with an appetite for plush polar bear rugs to adorn the perfect 60's home, the result was a precipitous rise in the numbers of polar bears hunted for international commercial trade.

Fortunately, the world responded and the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed with a missive for the sustainable conservation of polar bears. And it worked. The international agreement helped end overharvesting and saw the world's polar bear populations rebound.

This week the old band is getting together again in Moscow.

The five nations where polar bears live (Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States) are convening with top scientists and experts across the world to once again address grave threats to polar bears--climate change and, with luck, a precipitous rise in the number of polar bears hunted for international commercial trade.

GettyImages_155149124-Polar Bears sm.jpg

Credit: Getty Images

Just in recent years we've seen changing conditions that could threaten the long-term survival of this iconic species: 

  • The 10 lowest sea ice measurements on record have been in the last 10 years (polar bears depend on sea ice to hunt their food and raise their cubs)
  • Canada has exported 99% of polar bears traded internationally in 2011 for commercial purposes--a 33% increase from 2010
  • China has imported 79% of polar bears traded internationally in 2011 for commercial purposes--a 40% increase from 2010--paying record prices for skins, trophies and bodies

As this high-level forum marks 40 years, my hope is that it will be with a strong renewed commitment to polar bear conservation.

A successful outcome would include a definition about what sound conservation practices means because it's a little vague in the agreement now and it's the language that is used to determine appropriate levels of global commercial trade. It would include a mechanism to examine, validate and address concerns about unsustainable polar bear harvests and exports from polar bear populations that we know are declining and those that we don't know enough about yet. And, ultimately, it would mean the world would once again see this agreement stem the tide of unsustainable international commercial trade while the species gets back on its feet and we learn how we can best protect it against its most pressing threat--climate change.

Let's hope that our generation will also be remembered for its trivial pursuits--20-something internet millionaires, twerking, and selfies--rather than as the generation that stood by as the future of this iconic ice-dependent species melted away.   

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Kjell StrindholmDec 4 2013 01:18 PM

I support activities that can save our polar bears.

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