The Obama administration has announced that it will support a ban on the commercial trade of polar bears at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in March, which would ban the sale polar bear parts outside of Canada and help end trophy hunting.
There are still an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears, with two-thirds of the population in Canada, but they’re facing a number of threats ranging from the loss of sea ice which they rely on for survival, disease, pollution, shipping and hunting, among other potential issues.
“Everybody knows that polar bears are threatened by climate change, but few people realize that the second-biggest threat to the species is commercial trade,” said Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defence Council.
“As polar bears decline during the melting of the sea ice, one of the best things we can do is to remove one of the other most important stresses on them, and it is the easiest one to remove,” he said.
The move would uplist polar bears from Appendix II to Apendix I as a species threatened by extinction and is supported by a number of conservation groups. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a position statement in support of uplisting polar bears and stated that it is “necessary to ensure that primarily commercial trade does not compound the threats posed to the species by loss of habitat.”
The legal trade in parts including paws, teeth and pelts results in the death of hundreds of polar bears annually. Canada, the only country that allows polar bear hunting and commercial trade, argues that populations are healthy and necessary for subsistence hunting, but troubling numbers gathered by the USFWS indicate that while some populations are stable or increasing, more than a dozen are either declining or haven’t been checked in decades.
Meanwhile, arctic sea ice has declined to record lows, while some estimate that polar bears will not survive a complete loss of summer sea ice that is expected to occur over the next 30 years.
The U.S. previously sponsored a proposal in 2010, but didn’t get enough support to make it happen. This year, Russia has agreed to support moving polar bears to Appendix I. As of May, Canada, Denmark and Norway didn’t see any reason to do anything, but haven’t announced their positions yet.
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