12/10/2014 2:55:27 PM

Safeguarding Arctic Biodiversity

By Geoff York, Senior Director of Conservation

I was fortunate to be invited to participate in this year's CAFF Arctic Biodiversity Congress in Trondheim, Norway. The conference brought together leading voices in arctic conservation from across sectors to share information and to discuss the steps needed to implement CAFF's Arctic Biodiversity Assessment recommendations. It was a packed week of presentations and discussions with three concurrent sessions most days, making it hard to choose a room and topic at times.

Norway and the city of Trondheim were a fabulous host location for the proceedings, exposing all to a taste of Norwegian Christmas fare at dinners through the week. If you love pickled herring, salmon lachs, and lamb, you would be right at home!

Participants discussed topics ranging from global arctic policies on fishing and shipping, to seabird and reindeer research and management issues, to all things polar bear. As one of the Arctic Council's working groups, CAFF (the Council on Arctic Flora and Fauna) has historically focused on large-scale assessments and policy advice, among other things. 

Polar Bears International was asked to participate in two sessions at the Congress: one on the role of nonprofit organizations in Arctic conservation, and another that covered several polar bear issues, including a status update that I presented on behalf of the IUCN/Polar Bear Specialist Group and a panel discussion on human-polar bear conflict.

Given my diverse professional background spanning government research, work with a wide-ranging international conservation group, and now with a nonprofit focused on a single species, the crucial roles non-governmental organizations play in research, education, and, ultimately, conservation is a topic I am passionate about. During the discussion many of us also recognized the vital need to maintain public forums for engagement in decision processes ranging from the environment, to health care, to social justice. 

The session on polar bears was also well-attended; it focused largely on polar bear human conflict. The panel discussion engaged the audience and provoked dialogue among those present that continued well into the subsequent coffee break. It was clear once again that efforts to keep people safe from bears and bears safe from people sparked a shared sense of purpose across a variety of people and organizations present.

The Congress was also a tremendous opportunity for me personally to reconnect with old colleagues and arctic friends who work across geographies and across sectors. That's one of the many aspects of working for PBI that I truly love—we seek dialogue with all partners, communities, and other stakeholders and we seek solutions.

The Congress was an excellent opportunity to practice what we preach and to spend time listening to the perspectives of northern peoples, academics, government, and industry. The experience left me with a feeling of optimism that we share a common vision of a healthy Arctic and will work together to find common ground and achieve that vision.

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