By Martin Banks - 21st November 2012
In Canada, polar bears are protected
MEPs are being urged to resist calls to add polar bears to a worldwide list of endangered species.
The demand comes as parliament gears up to debate a non-binding resolution which supports the inclusion of the species on the list.
The resolution, to be discussed by the assembly's environment committee next week, says the move is justified because polar bears are a threatened species.
The list is updated every three years by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is due to be updated again in March 2013.
The committee will have a first discussion on their resolution on this and other proposals by CITES during its meeting on Wednesday.
A final decision on whether or not the species are added to the list will be taken by CITES member states next March.
The parliamentary resolution is non-binding but it is likely to influence the voting behaviour of members of CITES, including member states.
Speaking ahead of the committee meeting, James Arreak, the environment minister from the Canadian territory of Nunavut, urged MEPs to reject the resolution.
He said the trade in polar bear skins was "crucially important" to the local economy of his province.
Arreak, who was in Brussels on Wednesday to lobby against the inclusion of polar bears on the list, told this website, "Canada's position is that the species should not be listed, as polar bears do not meet the biological criteria for this."
He said that Canada was working with international partners, including non-governmental organisations, to coordinate its efforts in polar bear conservation.
He argued that inclusion on the CITES list would "only be appropriate" for species that are known to be traded internationally and when the trade has, or may have, a detrimental impact on the status of the species.
He said, "At the current time, the polar bear does not meet the criteria for listing."
Approximately 300 polar bears, or two per cent of the Canadian polar bear population, enters the international trade annually and exports from Canada have not increased over the years, he said.
Listing polar bears "would have no conservation benefit," he said.
"The polar bears also do not meet the biological criteria to be listed. To be listed, a species must be 'threatened with extinction'.
"The current global population size, however, is estimated at 20,000–25,000 polar bears. The polar bear does not have a small wild population, it does not have a restricted area of distribution and no marked decline has been observed."
International trade is not a threat to polar bears, and the species does not meet the biological criteria under the so-called "appendix 1" listing.
Canada is home to two thirds of the global polar bear population and, said Arreak, is committed to the conservation of the species.
"In Canada, polar bears are protected through a collaborative approach that is shared with provinces, territories and regional wildlife management boards.
"This allows activities, investments and expertise to be coordinated across the country and ensures that each organisation is meeting its responsibilities to conserve the species while supporting our international commitments."