The Center for Biological Diversity, a US conservation group, has filed a formal request with the Department of the Interior, CBC News reports. The group is calling for a ban on all Canadian wildlife product imports. The proposed ban is in protest against the recent decision of the Nunavut territorial government to increase this year’s quota on the polar bear hunt in one of the defined hunting regions.
It’s actually rather shocking that polar bears are still being legally killed for trophy hunts. They’re considered a threatened species; in fact, they’re the first species to be added to the endangered species list due to the threat from global warming. I think few enough people are aware that polar bear hunting is still legally sanctioned. If they were, we might by now have forced government tourism and game departments to get with the program.
We’ve covered this issue at Care2 already. Last year, Russia put a stop to their hunt. Canada, however, is still resisting pressure from conservationists to follow suit. The Arctic is a fragile ecosystem, and each year the environmental pressure of a changing climate is tougher on the polar bear population. Decreased sea ice has a direct effect on the ability of the bears to travel and hunt. And the danger of over-hunting, which is even putting the much larger harp seal populations at risk, are difficult to overstate.
Admittedly, this is somewhat of a sticky issue. The Inuit have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years in a sustainable way, never increasing their populations above what the land could support, and never over-hunting the species they depended on for food. Sustaining themselves on a purely carnivorous diet, they had to carefully manage caribou and seal populations, and never wasted any part of their kills.
The Inuit are one of the few indigenous groups in Canada that have still maintained much of their way of life since the New World was colonized by Europeans. Now, thanks to those of us down south, with our Hummers and Big Macs, Arctic species are at risk. And we’re telling the Inuit we need to step in and tell them what they can and can’t do.
It feels wrong, probably because we have done wrong to get to this state. But I don’t think it’s wrong to try to put on the brakes before these species disappear forever. And when we look a little more closely, the cultural reasons seem to pale before the enormous economic incentives of both hunts. Truthfully, the way these hunts are conducted now is very commercially sound, but not all that traditional. It’s not traditional to slaughter as many seals as can possibly be found, even though they won’t be consumed by the tribe.
The much smaller polar bear hunt, meanwhile, is conducted for trophy purposes. This again is not something that a people in harmony with their environment will sanction. And the money flowing in from these enterprises is not going just to the Inuit, either. Stephen Harper has steadfastly stood behind these hunts, but I feel confident cultural protection is not his real motivation.
If it were, though, just for the sake of argument, a question of preserving Inuit culture versus preserving these species, what then? Even if the direct result of conservation measures would be to impinge heavily on the Inuit way of life, I think we have to do so. The world is changing, and mitigating the damage will continue to require changing everyone’s way of life. Consider the alternative.
One way or another these hunts will stop. The only question is, will we stop them in time, or get a couple extra years out of them at the expense of wiping these species out forever?
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service