September 21, 2009

Climate change pits Inuit, wildlife advocates against each other on polar bear hunting

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What wildlife advocates see as a well-meant U.S. effort to help preserve the polar bear in the face of global warming effectively translates into being fired and losing a cultural icon all at the same time for the  Inuit.

Because the United States decided to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act, polar bear skins no longer are allowed to be imported. That’s led to a dearth of the American big-game hunters who previously paid the Inuit — also known as Eskimos — many thousands of dollars to serve as hunting guides. Collectively, it was thought to be a $3 million-a-year business  and it helped natives who don’t have a lot of ways to bring in cash.

Charles J. Hanley’s dispatch from Canada’s Northwest Territories for the Associated Press takes on heart-rending quality as you read on, with an elderly Inuit man exclaiming:

The ice is melting I’m always wondering, ‘What the hell they going to do if there’s no more ice in the Arctic?’

Ironically, some native communities are actually seeing more bears now. That, scientists say, is because the bears don’t have as much ice to roam on, and so are more likely to be near where people live and hunt.  

Some other native communities say they aren’t seeing as many bears as they used to. Scientists acknowledge that trying to count the bears is a dicey affair because they are so far-flung and live in such difficult weather conditions. But, Erik Born, Danish chairman of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group, observed:

It’s not rocket science. An animal population losing its home rapidly means to me they will be in bad shape.

— Robert McClure

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