Where in the European Union is the Polar Bear?

US Fish and Wildlife Service is launching a new week-long campaign, “Follow the Polar Bear” to highlight USFWS Director, Dan Ashe’s, travels to Europe.Fish and Wildlife Service is launching a new week-long campaign, “Follow the Polar Bear” to highlight USFWS Director, Dan Ashe’s, travels to Europe where he will be meeting with officials to discuss the upcoming CoP16 meeting.  On his agenda…polar bears.

The back story: At the 2010 Conference of the Parties polar bear conservation hit a major stumbling block when CITES parties decided not to list polar bears as an Appendix I species, which would have protected polar bears from unsustainable trophy hunting and commercial trade.  Luckily, polar bears are getting a second chance. 

On October 4, the United States, supported by Russia, resubmitted the proposal to have the species listed, therefore at the upcoming CoP16 in Thailand this March, countries will have another opportunity to vote on the fate of polar bears.  And, if two-thirds of the parties vote in favor of the listing, polar bears will finally be granted the much-needed status and protection they deserve.

With this all in mind, the USFWS Director Dan Ashe will be meeting this week and next with EU officials to discuss the many threats to polar bears – high on the list is the alarming rate of habitat loss and pressures from commercial trade.  In 2010, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported the smallest Arctic sea ice cover in history – a full 300,000 sq. kilometers less than ever before recorded.  On top of this, demand for polar bears in commercial trade has dramatically increased, with price of skins more than doubling since 2008. The result? An increase in hunting pressures, including poaching. These combined threats make for a questionable future for the world’s polar bears.

FWS will feature photos of a USFWS-branded polar bear toy at landmarks around the EU corresponding with US official delegate stops. Photos will be posted on Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs Facebook page and Twitter (hashtag: #followthepolarbear) every morning coinciding with meetings between the United States and EU countries.

And while the travelling stuffed polar bear is a fun side-excursion, the real goal of the trip is much more serious: Can Director Ashe convince the governments of Europe to support the listing?  Without the EU’s powerful voting block supporting polar bears in the last CITES vote, the US proposal lost. There is now a new opportunity for the EU to support polar bears, by voting for this proposal.  Without their support, the polar bear may face the same outcome as before, leaving it defenseless to increasing commercial trade which is only exacerbating other threats such as habitat loss due to climate change.

A stuffed bear is nice and all, but it’s the real ones that can’t be replaced.  Please join me in wishing Director Ashe luck in reaching out to his counterparts in Europe.  The fate of thousands of imperiled polar bears rides on this trip.

--JF

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