Polar bears will not be considered for severe CITES trade restrictions

The CITES working group meeting that just concluded in Tel Aviv, Israel a few days ago decided it would not recommend a vote to move polar bears from Appendix II, where they are now, to Appendix I, at the next general CITES meeting in 2016.

CITES 2015 meeting logo

It appears, however, that the US – which was behind failed petitions in the past (in 2010 and 2013) and voiced an official objection to this 2015 decision – is threatening to raise the issue again at the next all-nations meeting of CITES in September 2016 (probably with a petition at that meeting).

The USA is trying to bully Canada and the international community to adopt its own shaky interpretation of what constitutes good polar bear science and it looks like it may refuse to give up until it has won.

UPDATE: 7 September 2015,  CITES press release (pdf here, relevant passage marked by me):

“The Committee’s Review of Significant Trade concluded that the current level of trade in polar bears, amongst others, is not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.

Summary of the meeting for 2 September 2015

“On Wednesday, participants continued meeting in working groups. Three new groups met: on periodic review, production systems and captive breeding…

The working group on the evaluation of the review of significant trade agreed to remove the polar bear from the review of significant trade process.[my bold]

Interesting Details from the published summary, ENB Bulletin  (pdf here):

Earth Negotiations Bulletin Sunday, 6 September 2015 Vol. 21 No. 85 Page 12
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
More than 200 participants flocked to the Mediterranean shores of Tel Aviv, Israel, for the 28th meeting of the Animals Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, one of the last two meetings of the scientific bodies of the Convention in the run up to the 17th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17) in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016


Another “megafauna” species to take center stage at AC28 was the polar bear. In a routine Review of Significant Trade (RST) of the Appendix II-listed Ursus maritimus, the Committee swiftly agreed to remove all range states from the review…all but one: Canada. Despite a detailed presentation on the merits of Canada’s management of its polar bear populations, the US strongly requested that its northern neighbor’s population be kept on the review due to concerns over “deficient” data for some subspecies.

In a detailed response, Canada said that of its estimated 16,000 polar bears, 352 are harvested annually, with about 2.5% entering international trade. Based on Canadian assessments, the harvest of its polar bears is sustainable and there is no detriment to their survival. Others, however, cited other research that showed a decline in polar bear populations, as a result of climate change and loss of sea ice, and that more precautions should be put in place and that non-detrimental findings should be updated before any decision can be made regarding taking the range state off the RST.

After what could be described at times as a “frosty” debate, the AC ultimately recommended removing the species from the review, given a majority of parties were in favor of doing so, but with a diplomatic suggestion for Canada to maintain a strict use of the precautionary approach; this was later amended in plenary to include all range states and not just single out Canada.

While the polar bear was deleted from the CITES RST for all range states, the conversation does not end there. As was done at CoP15 in Doha and CoP16 in Bangkok, there is talk that another attempt to propose moving the polar bear to Appendix I is in the works for Cop17 in South Africa next year. [my emphasis]

Note that the USA has the fewest polar bears of all Arctic nations worldwide and Canada has the most.  Despite that fact, and that a vote by all CITES nations agreed in 2010 and 2013 and at this 2015 meeting that polar bears should not move to a CITES status of severe restrictions on trade, the US (via the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which handled past petitions) appears to have plans to push the international community in 2016 to have polar bears moved from Appendix II to Appendix I (although this is stated as being “talk” i.e. a rumor).

Insisting that your opinion trumps the majority in a democracy is bullying, especially the majority has told you three times, via a diplomatic vote, that they disagree.

As I said in 2013 regarding the CITES decision: It is time to move on

Why is it so hard for environmental advocates and advocate scientists to accept that the unbridled slaughter that went on in the past has been successfully halted? Why can’t they move on? The 1973 agreement that gave protection to polar bears worldwide is one of the great conservation success stories – polar bear numbers have rebounded remarkably since then (see also previous posts here, here, and here). The polar bear has been saved. [Polar bear population update to 2015 here]

There is no question in my mind that we should be moving on to understanding polar bears better, including how and where they live. At a time when polar bear biologists cannot tell us with any confidence how many polar bears exist in Russia, East Greenland and the Arctic Basin – which truly hinders management decisions – why are advocate scientists not petitioning the WWF (as well as the Sierra Club, the Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Polar Bears International, among others) to put some serious money towards counting polar bears? As I mentioned before, for every dollar of the millions the WWF brings in, it funnels pennies toward essential polar bear research.

Advocate scientists would do more for polar bears of the future if they stopped their infernal cries of “Save the polar bear” and get on with the next conservation step – increasing our knowledge of this species. Where is the global campaign led by Stirling, Derocher and Amstrup for money to survey all Russian territories and East Greenland for polar bears? Why is all this advocacy effort being poured into more and more stringent regulation schemes and fighting the crystal-ball perils of global warming that may or may not be an issue 50 years from now when there are basic biological questions that still need to be answered – information critical to managing polar bear populations 10 years from now?

Previous posts on this issue:
US proposal to ban polar bear trade FAILS  March 7 2013

Polar bear spin reaches epic proportions at Bangkok CITES meeting posted March 10 2013

Why is the US pushing to ban polar bear trade? Polar bears have been saved February 4 2013

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