Ah the smell of gunpowder and the thrill of pitting one's wits against a wild beast. Maybe that beast is a gentle rabbit or a deer, maybe it's a majestic creature such as the polar bear. Whatever living creature that it may be at the end of the rifle sights the question remains the same. What motivates modern man to leave the comforts of his natural environment, his home and Facebook, put on camouflage, load a hunting rifle and end the life of another creature?
Hunting has no real justification today other than the satisfaction of a blood lust. We no longer need to find food in the wild, our supermarkets are well stocked, even if somewhat overpriced. As an alternative, one which is well travelled, there are numerous burger, pizza and other sundry fast food outlets waiting at our beck and call. Clothing is simply a choice between a mall or boutique, depending on the size of one's wallet. Even if a fur is preferred then enough is available that has been professionally treated and dyed into any natural colour of the rainbow, and ready to wear.
The time has long gone when man was cutting out the path for the future out of the wild. Then, sheer survival rested in the hands of the hunter and his good eye. It was also a time when the wild beast had an opportunity to show its displeasure with any hunter who's aim was not true as he fumbled with musket ball and gun powder. Today our weapons are sophisticated, as we claim to be, and even a crossbow comes with a manual in several languages upon purchase.
So what drives man to kill? Today we truly are more sophisticated with a touch of maturity added. We have come to recognize the limitations of our environment and the consequences of our actions. Collectively nations from around the world have gathered lists of animals and creatures that have become at risk of extinction. Governments have been joined by non-profit organizations in an attempt to stop the total destruction of so many individual species.
China's Panda Bear has become a world symbol of a species at risk of total destruction and the efforts to ensure such a reality does not happen. Other creatures such as the Sumatran and Javan Rhino, Greater Bamboo Lemur, Jamaican Rock Iguana, and so many more are on the endangered list or species at risk lists. Canada has completed the National Strategy for the Protection of Species at Risk and adapted the Species At Risk Act (SARA) in 2002. Dozens of mammals, fish, reptiles and birds are listed so as to preserve our nature for future generations.
In 2011 Canada finally listed the Polar Bear - Ursus Maritimus – as a “species of special concern.” Under SARA, Species At Risk Act, this category is one level below threatened and two below endangered. Parks Canada (www.pc.gc.ca) Species at Risk Glossary explains the category as “a species of special concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.” The US had taken stronger steps by listing the Polar Bear as a threatened species in 2008.
According to the Justice Laws Website, Species at Risk (S.C.2002.c.29) section 73, Agreements and Permits states, “The competent minister may enter into an agreement with a person, or issue a permit to a person, authorizing the person to engage in an activity affecting a listed wildlife species, any part of its critical habitat or the residences of its individuals.” In Subsection (3) Pre-conditions, (c) states, “the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.” Ursus Maritimus has somehow fallen between what seems to be a species at risk and a category of some concern only. Can this be simple political semantics at play, bowing to international pressure, or should it be of 'special concern'. In 2013 at the CITES Conference, (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Canada's federal government proved again that duplicity is a tool wielded by experts here, and the government found a rather astonishing ally raising its voice on the world stage.
According to the Government of Canada, Species at Risk Registry – Species Profile of the Polar Bear, “the Polar Bear is the largest terrestrial carnivore in the world.” It is found in the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway and Russia, Canada's population makes up two-thirds of the global population. The Government of Canada states, ”Although there is uncertainty about the overall impact of climate change on the species' distribution and numbers, considerable concern exists for the future of this species in Canada.”
Canada's government admits that “At present, the main limiting factor affecting the species is human-caused mortality, almost exclusively from regulated hunting. There is no harvesting program that currently takes into consideration anticipated changes in rates of survival and reproduction due to the effects of climate change on the biology of Polar Bears, particularly the reduction in the availability of prey.”
Environment Minister Peter Kent on November 10th 2011 said, “Canada's home to two-thirds of the world's polar bear population and we have a unique conservation responsibility to effectively care for them. Our government is demonstrating leadership in protecting this iconic species.” That was in 2011, now in February 2013 Peter Kent's government showed a very different face on the world issue.
At the CITES convention in Bangkok early March this year, Canada proved that duplicity and hypocrisy are still the favoured tools of its trade. Once again Peter Kent's words show that Canada will say one thing and for reasons motivated by economics do the opposite. At the wildlife summit the US, supported by Russia had proposed to ban the trade of polar bear skins, teeth and paws. A leading polar bear expert from Russia said, “Polar bears are struggling for survival already and exposing them to hunting will drive them to extinction.” (The Guardian, March 7,2013,Damian Carrington). Conservation groups such as the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) made it clear that potential exists that two-thirds of the 20,000 - 25,000 polar bears existing today could be extinct by 2050.
Canada opposed the ban and argued that these predictions were based on emotion rather than science, citing its strict regulations on polar bear hunting which ensure sustainability of the polar bear population. President of the national organization representing indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada, Terry Audla went so far as accusing conservation groups of lying rather than presenting facts. He said, “A ban would affect our ability to buy the necessities of life, to clothe our children. We have to protect our means of putting food on the table and selling polar bear hides enables us to support ourselves.”
In what might be considered a surprising move the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) supported Canada and its opposition of an export ban. The WWF claimed that decisions made without scientific evidence would damage the CITES organization. The senior Arctic species officer with World Wildlife Fund, Peter Ewins said in July 2011, when the federal government announced that the Polar Bear was to be listed as a species at risk, that any government management plan would likely fail.
Peter Ewins went on to say “The No.1 problem that dwarfs everything else is fossil fuel induced global warming. So a management plan that's focused on Inuit and the Arctic and habitats and things in the Arctic isn't going to do diddly-squat. If we all stopped driving cars tomorrow, that would probably start to help.” (CBC News, July 12 ,2011,Polar Bears to be listed as species at risk). Maybe someone could ask Peter Ewins what kind of automobile he drives and if he has stopped doing so.
As the federal government was announcing that the Polar Bear was to be listed as a species at risk under the category of special concern, Drikus Gissing, director of wildlife management for the Nunavut government had this to say: “If the federal government want to list species because they are concerned about climate change, they need to come and list every single species in the Arctic. If climate change continues it will impact every single species.” (Canadian Press) Climate change is very real, it is not simply an alarmist’s bogeyman, and there is no sign of it slowing down. This is simply because no government on any continent is willing to take the necessary real steps to do anything about it.
Mr. Gissing also said that the federal government listing the Polar Bear as a species at risk was of no great concern and the designation would not change how Nunavut was already managing the Polar Bear population nor the traditional hunting rights for aboriginal people. This statement was truly a clear indicator of the duplicity of the federal government. Environment Minister Peter Kent was full of his usual hypocrisy when it came to the federal government’s environmental policies, when he said “Our government is demonstrating leadership...”
The smoke and mirrors began with the Canadian government bowing to international pressures with the listing of the Polar Bear as a species at risk. Canada’s real “leadership” was demonstrated in Bangkok at the CITES conference. This was no different to Canada’s signing onto the Kyoto Accord and then withdrawing, its environmental policy hacked for the sake of energy development or its open policy on the oil sands. In Canada more often policy is governed by economics, when there is money to be made all else pales in consideration.
According to nunavuttourism.com, “Big game is a part of Nunavut's tourism industry, for good reason, Nunavut features some of the most exotic and highly prized big game animals on Earth, including extremely dangerous polar bears, numerous herds of muskoxen, abundant barren- ground caribou, a sustainable harvest of walrus, plus the healthiest and least threatened population of wolves in the world.” Nunavutians claim the Arctic Wolf (canis lupus arctos) “is also the only wolf in the world that is not threatened – largely because they rarely encounter humans.”
HenikLake Adventures touts “Polar Bear Hunt in Canada's Arctic – We are sold out until 2014 but we do get extra permits from time to time. Please fill out the information request form to be put on our waiting list.” Photographs of several 'kills' tantalize the avid adventurer and are partnered by these comforting words, “Government biologists closely monitor Polar Bear Populations in the Canadian Arctic and allow a limited amount of licenses to be issued each year in the Western Hudson Bay Population. The Polar Bear migrate northward from the Churchill, Manitoba area which is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World.” It must be said that Henik Lake Adventures, and other such tour companies, are not doing anything illegal, they are simply entrepreneurs making a buck.
The hunt does not include airfares to and from Arviat, gratuities to guides and more, but it does include the “services of our experienced Inuit guides; 1 hunter per guide.” Costs for such an adventurer of a lifetime are not low, with an average fee of $40,000 to $45,000 per hunt, with a $15,000 per person deposit required. To be a non-gun toting observer alone it will cost one $7,500.
Law requires that every hunter must be accompanied by an Inuit guide. A representative from Environment Canada has said on the phone (recorded for quality control), “you would have to have an Inuit guide, and it would be very costly I am sure.” Yet the aboriginal people claim it is their tradition that must be safeguarded. Terry Audla, president of the national organization representing indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada talked of “the ability to buy necessities of life to clothe our children.” Drikus Gissing, director of wildlife management for the Nunavut government, said that the designation as a species at risk would not change anything or take away traditional hunting rights for aboriginal people.
As a response to a 2009 study by the Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare - “polar bear hunting is not an Inuit tradition,” Gabriel Nirlungayuk had this to say in the Globe & Mail August 24th 2011, “Who are they to say that it's not tradition? It's not traditional for you guys to be in a car. Should you be riding horses? Our culture has evolved.” Mr. Gabriel Nirlungayuk is the director of wildlife for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. an organization advocating for the territory's Inuit.
Polar Bear hunting is simply business and it's a relatively big enough business for it to be protected. It has spawned tour companies such as Henik Lake Adventures and others. In addition to the tour companies handy tips are offered on the internet through sites such as huntingtipsandtricks.com. Here the question is answered, “Once you have your Polar Bear, Grizzly or black bear trophy on the ground what are you going to do with the skull?” Just follow the handy materials needed list to prepare yourself and then five easy steps to be able to display a shiny clean trophy.
Huntingtipsandtricks.com describes polar bear hunts as “one of the toughests hunt. Only fit and mentally tough hunters can endure the mental and physical challenges posed in this expedition.” It is big game hunting at its biggest, and it is part of Nunavut's tourism industry. Whether it is the government protecting a source of revenue or the aboriginal people protecting their own cash supply, the polar bear simply remains a commodity.
Terry Audla, president of the national organization representing indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada went so far as to attack the US and their push for a ban on Polar Bear Trade. Audla said: “The US is using the polar bear as a blunt tool to bring about climate change concerns – it is the perfect poster child.” (The Guardian, March 7, 2013). Audla also played the hearts and strings with his speech of indigenous people being able to provide the necessities of life and clothe their children. Yet polar bear trophy hunting accounts for less than 2% of the average income of Inuit residents (Environics Research Group, March 16, 2010 – Overwhelming Majority of Canadians Support CITES Ban on Commercial Trade of Polar Bear Parts).
In the end the Polar Bear becomes a “poster child” for the aboriginals equally to sell their demands. Canada's government on the other hand argued that there is not enough scientific evidence available which shows the polar bear as a species in danger of a population collapse. So even though it listed the polar bear as a species at risk, the stand Canada has taken raises questions as to why did it bother to do so.
The Commissioner on Environmental Co-operation, which is part of NAFTA, had accepted a petition which would force Canada to explain its policies on the Polar Bear to the international environmental watchdog. A lawyer representing the Center for Biological Diversity has stated “The Commission found that we had a sufficient allegation and provided sufficient documentation of the violation that we can move forward in this process.” (The Canadian Press December 1,2012).
A spokesperson from Environment Canada said the government is currently developing a management plan for the polar bears. Yet the Canadian government doesn't believe that the Polar Bear faces a risk of a “population collapse.” One of the biggest wildlife conservation non-profit groups doesn't believe any management plan will do “diddly-squat.” The Nunavut government will not be affected in any way in its policies towards aboriginal traditional rights regardless of any management plans. So in the end the trophy taking will continue as arguments at conferences and committees do so equally.
The world can only hope that the Polar Bear can survive the impact of men as it does its harsh natural environment and not reach a “population collapse.” In the meantime, “Hunting teams leave with their snowmobiles, dog teams and sleds. Temperatures can reach -40F and below, the only forms of protection you have are the clothes and your tent. Polar bear hunting expeditions can take several days and sometimes several weeks due to unpredictable weather. Sometimes visibility can drop below 100 yards.” (huntingtipsandtricks.com)
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