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Should polar bear hunting be legal? It’s complicated.

MSN.COM May 28, 2019 – Countries around the world agree that polar bears are in trouble: They’re considered threatened in the United States, of special concern in Canada, and vulnerable internationally. Yet in much of their icy habitat, it’s perfectly legal to pick up a gun and shoot one.

In Canada, home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s estimated 25,000 remaining polar bears, the animals are hunted both for their meat and for their thick, furry white pelts. The Canadian government and conservation groups alike have long held that polar bear hunting in Canada is sustainable. But in his new book, Polar Bears and Humans, Ole Liodden, a Norwegian polar bear researcher, argues that it’s not.

For decades, Canada has been the main hunting ground for polar bears. The Canadian government sometimes makes recommendations on how to hunt sustainably—for example, harvesting two males for every female—but Canada’s provincial and territorial governments establish their own annual hunting quotas.

Samuel Iverson, head of the polar bear management unit for the Canadian Wildlife Service, says scientists recommend targeting males disproportionately because they may mate with more than one female in a year, whereas females mate only once every two years. “If you want to make sure that you’re not overharvesting, you’d really pay attention to the number of females you’re removing,” he says.

Liodden believes that rationale is flawed because the polar bears in highest demand for the commercial pelt trade are the largest males—the strongest and healthiest animals. By removing those bears from the population, he says, hunters perpetuate what he calls “reverse selection”—the idea that instead of survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the weakest.

Polar bears use sea ice platforms to hunt for seals when they surface for air. But, Liodden says, as our warming planet melts more sea ice, perpetuation of the species may rest with the strongest bears—those that can swim farther, hunt better, or go longer without food. [Read More]

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