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« Reply #75 on: June 01, 2009, 04:43:18 pm »

                                        Arctic indigenous people cling to polar bear hunt

March 20, 2009

Hunting polar bears has been banned since 1973 but the Arctic's indigenous peoples are exempt out of respect for their ancestral traditions, despite scientists' objections over how the quotas are divided.

"When I was a child, it was forbidden to speak our language, to do things like dancing because missionaries said we were worshipping the devils," said Charles Johnson, an Inuit from the small town of Nome, Alaska.

"We need to keep our traditions alive. That includes regaining our language, regaining our culture and polar bear hunting is part of that," he said on the sidelines of a follow-up meeting in the Norwegian town of Tromsoe on a 1973 polar bear conservation agreement.

Signed by the five Arctic states that have polar bears -- Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the United States -- the pact bans the hunt except in rare cases.

Article 3 of the agreement stipulates that "any contracting party may allow the taking of polar bears when such taking is carried out ... by local people using traditional methods in the exercise of their traditional rights."

Indigenous people consider the practice essential to their survival even though the bear accounts for only a small part of their diet and despite the fact that the species is under threat from climate change.

In Canada, which is home to two-thirds of the world's polar bears, part of the hunting quotas go to sports hunting by wealthy tourists.

"Subsistence is not just about nutrition. It is also about economic subsistence for the community," said Virginia Poter, the director general of the Canadian Wildlife Service.

A 10-day hunting expedition with a guide can bring in up to 30,000 Canadian dollars (24,400 US dollars, 18,000 euros) to the local population, or 1.87 million Canadian dollars annually.

"And the meat and fat usually remain in the country," she said.

The situation in Alaska is very different, where sports hunting is not allowed.

"There's no money involved, it's all about sharing," said Taqulik Hepa, an Inuit from Barrow in northern Alaska.

"When a polar bear is harvested, an announcement is made in the community and people come to the hunter's house to share the meat. It goes in no time," she said.

Each year, some 700 bears are killed in Canada, Greenland and Alaska out of a total population of 20,000 to 25,000 -- a level that scientists generally deem sustainable.

But a bone of contention is how the quotas are divvied up between different polar bear populations.

In the winter of 2004, authorities in the Canadian territory of Nunavut sharply increased quotas in Baffin Bay located between Canada and Greenland, from 64 to 105 animals.

The decision was based on Inuit accounts of increasingly frequent bear sightings.

"Raising quotas was a mistake," said Canadian polar bear expert Ian Stirling.

"People reported seeing more polar bears and the interpretation was that there were more polar bears. But the truth is that it was probably linked to the melting of sea ice, which forced bears onto land," he told AFP.

Added to the Greenland Inuits' taking of about 100 bears from the same population, the Nunavut decision has endangered the survival of the species in the area, according to scientists who said a sustainable quota to be shared by the two countries was 93.

"The population I'm most concerned about is the one in Baffin Bay," Stirling said.   
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