Furor over a tweet from the Moscow polar bear forum

The ousting of WWF and their cohorts from meetings to which they had initially been invited is the real story (so far) coming out of the International Forum on Conservation of Polar Bears (December 3-6, Moscow). However, that incident never made the mainstream media, so few people will ever know it happened.

What the public did hear about was the uproar over a tweet.

On the last day of the meeting, Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq drove home, in less than 140 characters and a photo, the point she and her contingent had been trying to make at the meeting.

Aglukkaq tweet_Dec 5 2013
A twitter storm erupted that got really nasty — and the media picked up on it. Within hours, newspapers across Canada had themselves a story.

Canada’s National Post (December 6, 2013) had this to say:

“Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is raising a ruckus in social media circles after posting a photo of a freshly killed polar bear on Twitter with the caption: “Enjoy!!”

And she did so while in Moscow where she is celebrating the 40th anniversary of an agreement on the conservation of polar bears.

Aglukkaq, an Inuk who was raised on the land, was relaying a message from someone in Arctic Bay, on Baffin Island, who boasted this week that his cousin had “caught his first polar bear” and included a photo of the dead, glassy-eyed carnivore.”

Aglukkaq responded to her critics over the polar bear photo with a couple of follow-up Twitter postings.

“I will continue to stand up for Inuit and Northern communities who rely on the polar bear hunt,” the minister wrote.

Polar bears are culturally, spiritually and economically important for northerners.[my bold]

See other reports here: Huffington Post and CTV News.

This one, by PostMedia’s Mike De Souza, includes a quote from polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher, ironically explaining why Inuit perspectives are probably wrong:

“While the minister’s brother might say he’s seeing more polar bears, there are lots of reasons for seeing more polar bears and one of them is the distribution changes,” Derocher said. “Sometimes it is because the population is increasing, but it’s a dynamic process and you need solid scientific information to determine what’s going on.” [my bold]

[Really, Andrew? So, how about releasing some “solid scientific information” for Western Hudson Bay?]

Keep in mind that Aglukkaq made it clear, both before and after the meeting, that protecting the polar bear hunting rights of Canada’s Arctic residents, as well as giving a voice to Inuit traditional knowledge, would be a priority for Canada.

Check out the “before the meeting” Environment Canada press release (December 2):

“Our Government is committed to proper conservation of the polar bear, while ensuring that the rights of Aboriginal peoples who continue to rely on the polar bear for food, clothing and livelihood are maintained and respected,” said Minister Aglukkaq.” [my bold]

And here’s the “after the meeting” press release (December 6):

“In signing this Declaration, the Range States have committed to developing and implementing comprehensive monitoring programs throughout the Arctic, in light of a recognized need for reliable data,” said Minister Aglukkaq. “We have also committed to ensuring that Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge is integrated into our polar bear management decisions. Finally, signing this Declaration represents a commitment to managing changes, such as increased economic development, that will continue to take place in our shared Arctic region.” [my bold]

It seems to me that Leona Aglukkaq’s tweet provided a fortuitously concrete and personal example of the points she’d just made at the meeting, which some might have taken to be abstract political rhetoric.

It also seems to me that the photo of the bear that Aglukkaq’s cousin shot was much less distressing, given the context, than the animal tragedy porn biologist Ian Stirling and his buddies used earlier this year [with some very graphic and disturbing photos of a bear that had died of old age] to promote their global warming agenda.

And in terms of “appropriateness,” how does Aglukkaq’s tweet stack up against the plethora of dead-to-the-world drugged bears used as photo-ops by polar bear biologists and their friends?1. Have a look at the photo below, for example.

How “appropriate” is it for a US Fish & Wildlife manager like Geoff Haskett, who ironically headed the USA contingent at the same polar bear meeting as Aglukkaq, to use an apparently lifeless polar bear as a fashion accessory for the photo that appears on his government “about” web page (backup here)?

Geoff Haskett, from his US Fish & Wildlife "about" page.

Photo of Geoff Haskett, Regional Director for the Alaska Region (who is a professional manager, with no science training), posted on his US Fish & Wildlife Service “about” page. The original has no caption.

The big-picture point of this whole incident is this: If the Canadian government ends up giving more credence to Inuit perspectives than it does to polar bear scientists, as the Environment Minister’s press releases suggest, then the biologists have only themselves to blame.

With one lone exception – Dr. Mitch Taylor – the Canadian “scientific advisers” of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group have resolutely refused to present their scientific information in full, and in a properly objective and dispassionate manner. Yet, they continue to insist that the “science” they promote is far superior to Inuit knowledge and should always be the last word on polar bears — you need only re-read Andrew Derocher’s statement above for a perfect example of their attitude.

I think it will be very interesting to see how this plays out – a wake-up call may be in the future for Canadian polar bear biologists.

Footnote 1. Note that the US Fish & Wildlife Service submitted the proposal have trade in polar bears banned by CITES and supported the submission to have polar bears declared “threatened” in the USA — this organization is very much a “friend” to PBSG biologists. More background here.

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