By Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post
An international meeting of government wildlife officials rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the global trade of polar bear parts Thursday, following an impassioned appeal by Canadian Inuits to preserve polar bear hunting in their communities.
There are between 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears living in the wild in Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway, according to the most recent analysis, which was conducted in the early 1990s. Scientists project that as Arctic summer sea ice shrinks, many polar bear populations could decline 66 percent by mid-century.
Canada is the only nation with polar bears that allows sports hunting. With two-thirds of the world's polar bear population, Canada exports at least 300 polar bears for sale each year.
Terry Audla, who represents Canada's indigenous Arctic peoples as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told delegates gathered in Bangkok for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that eliminating the global trade of polar bears would harm the Inuits' local economy. The species is currently listed on Appendix II of CITES, which requires a permit for anyone selling polar bear parts to a buyer overseas.
"A ban would affect our ability to buy the necessities of life, to clothe our children," Audla said. "We have to protect our means of putting food on the table and selling polar bear hides enables us to support ourselves."
Any CITES proposal requires a two-thirds majority of those present and voting for passage: 42 countries opposed the proposal, 38 voted in favor and 46--including all 27 members of the European Union--abstained.
The Obama administration had lobbied hard for passage of the measure in the months leading up to Thursday's vote, arguing that cutting back on hunting would provide some respite to a species under pressure from climate change.