Canada’s Polar Bear on Thin Ice – Federal Government Must Take Action
April 25, 2008 Canada’s independent scientific body, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), today confirmed that the polar bear is at risk in Canada. More than half the world’s polar bears call Canada home.COSEWIC’s assessment that the polar bear is a species of ‘special concern,’ is a repeat of previous science-based COSEWIC assessments of the polar bear’s status made in 1991, 1999 and 2002. COSEWIC assessments trigger a recommendation from the federal Minister of Environment on whether or not to add the species to the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA) list.
The listing process is often mired in politics: in July, 2005, the federal government had the opportunity to accept COSEWIC’s recommendation and add the polar bear to the list of species under the SARA, but instead, for political reasons, referred the polar bear back to COSEWIC for a reassessment.
At present, five of Canada’s thirteen polar bear populations are thought to be in decline. Three are thought to be increasing, although for two of these populations increases are attributed to decreased hunting quotas for populations that were previously over-hunted. The Western Hudson Bay population – the most studied polar bear population on the planet – declined by 22% between 1987 and 2004.
Due to climate change, the future for all of Canada’s polar bear populations is uncertain, as polar bears depend upon sea ice, and sea ice is declining (at a rate of 9.8 per cent per decade since 1978.) Polar bears also face threats from increased oil and gas development pressures, bioaccumulation of toxic substances, unsustainable hunting quotas and increased shipping traffic.
“There are two things that the Harper government must do to protect the polar bear,” said Rachel Plotkin, the Foundation’s Biodiversity Policy Analyst. “First, it must develop and implement policies to deeply reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions–now. Second, it must list the polar bear under the federal Species At Risk Act.”
A federal listing of special concern will trigger the development of a management plan, which, under the SARA, must include measurements for the conservation of the species. The David Suzuki Foundation calls upon the government to expedite the process of listing the polar bear and developing and implementing a nation-wide management plan.
For more information, contact:
Rachel Plotkin, Biodiversity Policy Analyst: (613) 796-7999 (Ottawa)