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article imageNunavut says Polar Bears do not need special protection

By Stephanie Dearing     May 31, 2010 in Environment
Iqaluit - Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice is considering what to do with the status of polar bears in Canada. The current listing as a species of "special concern" is under review.
With consultations scheduled to end in the near future, and a decision made by the spring of 2011, Nunavut has weighed-in on the discussion about the status of polar bears. Nunavut's Environment Minister Shewchuk issued a press release Friday, saying there is no reason to give the Polar Bear any special status, a switch from his previous stance. Shewchuk said "Nunavut has an excellent track record of collaborative wildlife management using the best available scientific information and the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit system of values, knowledge and beliefs. It is important that we rely on the science and local observations and not cave to external pressure and uninformed opinions. There is simply no clear evidence to support a proposed up-listing.”
Shewchuk's press release explained the change in position by saying "... Inuit hunters have a close relationship with the land and wildlife. They have observed that the overall population of polar bears in Nunavut is not declining as some suggest, but rather is thriving. No known environmental or other factors are currently posing a significant or immediate threat to polar bears overall. Furthermore, Inuit knowledge and science corroborate that the species can and will adapt to changing and severe climatic conditions, as it has done for centuries."
Shewchuk gave a nod to the idea that some Canadian polar bear populations are at higher risk than others, saying “Polar bears are an important and iconic species both globally, and to the Inuit who depend on a sustainable and well-managed population. As such, the Department of Environment is committed to working with all co-management partners to continually monitor and study polar bear populations and how they may be affected by factors such as changes in sea ice abundance and distribution. Polar bear co-management partners in Nunavut acknowledge some specific conservation concerns such as the Baffin Bay polar bear population, and have taken appropriate management steps to address those issues."
Nunavut's new position reflects the views of the Inuit in Baffin Bay who, in response to a decision to reduce the number of polar bears that could be hunted earlier this year, said they would not abide by the new rules, reported CBC News. The Nunavut government had decided to reduce the number of bears by ten for the 2010 hunt in order to protect the fragile Baffin Bay population.
The Inuit position on the status of the Polar Bear is not new. Hunting the bear has been an integral part of the Inuit way of life. If the species receives a designation such as 'endangered,' as has happened in the United States, polar bear products cannot be sold to that country.
The global estimation of the polar bear population rests at 20,000 to 25,000. Of that population, approximately 15,500 polar bears are found in Canada. A lack of population counts and studies for the polar bears over the years has resulted in reliance on estimates.
Environment Canada assesses the status of the bears based on geographical populations, and had identified four population groups at risk of decline, while the remaining seven groups were assessed as 'stable.'
Environment Canada attributes the risk to four populations as being the result of "... climate change for western Hudson Bay (Nunavut and Manitoba) and the southern Beaufort Sea (Northwest Territories), but are mostly due to unsustainable harvesting in Kane Basin and Baffin Bay (Nunavut)."
Under the Canadian status rankings, 'species of concern' means the species might be at risk. This category is the fourth ranking. First is 'extinct,' second is 'extirpated,' and third is 'at risk.'
Canada worked hard to oppose a proposal by the USA to list the bear as globally endangered at a recent meeting of CITES, as reported by CBC News.
The IUCN Red List designates polar bears as "vulnerable," saying the risk of the species received that status because "The assessment is based on a suspected population reduction of >30% within three generations (45 years) due to decline in area of occupancy (AOO), extent of occurrence (EOO) and habitat quality."
Canada, Greenland and Nunavut signed an agreement to protect polar bears in 2009.
More about Nunavut, Polar bears, Endangered species, Jim prentice, Environment canada
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