Canadians argue for polar bear hunt

June 24, 2008 6:51:19 AM PDT
Officials from northern Canada were in Washington on Monday to make an unpopular argument: Let U.S. hunters continue to kill polar bears for sport.

The politicians from Canada's Northwest Territory asked Interior Department officials to allow U.S. sportsmen to still bring back polar bear hides after their hunts in Canada's Arctic region, despite the increased protection now afforded the bear under the Endangered Species Act.

The United States bans sport hunting of polar bears, but Canada does not, although it restricts the hunting season to two months and limits the number of kills.

The recent decision to declare the polar bear threatened under the Endangered Species Act also means U.S. sportsmen may no longer bring home trophy skins - which is what hunting's high-rollers actually prize.

This "will effectively wipe out our sports hunting industry," Bob McLeod, the Northwest Territory's minister for energy, industry and tourism, said Monday in an interview. He said it will wipe out most of the income for people living in a handful of villages along the province's Arctic coast.

He said hunters, mostly from the United States, spend an estimated $1.6 million annually during the polar bear hunts, much of it going into the economies of the isolated villages where the hunts are organized and concentrated.

McLeod said people who live in the far north know about global warming and have seen the permafrost melting, the icepack shrinking and seasons changing. "We are experiencing the effects of climate change," said McLeod.

But while the polar bear may have become a symbol of global warming, McLeod insists continued hunting and protecting the species can go hand in hand. The hunts are closely controlled, with 40 permits - each for one bear - issued each season.

"The bottom line is that people rely on this. This is income for the whole year," said Jackie Jacobson, who represents the far northern area in the provincial legislature.

There are about 86 hunting guides and helpers directly involved in the polar bear hunts, he said. Villagers' livelihoods are tied to the annual trek of wealthy U.S. sportsmen seeking a bear skin trophy. Because there are few jobs in the far north, hunting season affects 3,500 people - including children - who live there, Jacobson said.

McLeod, Jacobson and several other Northwest Territory officials met with Ken Stansell, deputy director of the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service, and have scheduled meetings with a number of people in Congress later this week. Fish and Wildlife officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Along with the polar bear hunting issue, McLeod is also talking up a planned natural gas pipeline that would bring Canadian Arctic gas from the far north to the United States.


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