Polar Bear to be Added to Species at Risk List

At last, in part thanks to thousands of letters sent by Nature Canada supporters, Canada appears set to list polar bears under Canada’s species-at-risk legislation.

Ottawa gave notice July 2 of the proposal to list the polar bear as a species of special concern under the Species At Risk Act, something Canada’s scientific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife has been recommending since 1991.

The proposal is undergoing a 30-day public comment period, and a final decision is anticipated to be made in November.

This important milestone means that, by law, a plan must be devised within three years to prevent the species from becoming endangered or threatened.

Polar bears are the world’s largest land predators, and the most majestic creature of the Far North. But dramatic changes, caused by global warming, are taking place in the Arctic that threaten the survival of this spectacular species.

Global warming is melting the polar ice caps, robbing the bears of the ice floes they need to hunt prey. As the annual sea ice melts, polar bears are forced ashore to spend their summers fasting. If the Arctic ice cap continues to melt sooner and form later, polar bears will become too thin to reproduce and many scientists predict they will become extinct by the end of this century.

The Arctic sea ice, which some reports say is shrinking by up to five per cent every ten years, not only provides hunting ground for polar bears, but shelter and transportation for seals, walrus, arctic foxes, and the Inuit people. The underside provides a surface for algae that supports cod, char, beluga, and narwhal. The white sea ice also has a cooling effect on climate by reflecting light away from Earth’s surface. As it melts, global warming advances even more quickly.

The United States designated the polar bear as threatened in May 2008. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the polar bear to its “Red List” of the world’s most imperiled wildlife in 2006.

COSEWIC has said four of Canada’s 13 polar bear subpopulations are at risk of becoming threatened over the next few decades, due to shrinking sea ice in some areas and overhunting in others. In 2009, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) cited climate change as the greatest challenge to the conservation of polar bears, and concluded that 1 of 19 subpopulations is currently increasing, 3 are stable and 8 are declining. For the remaining 7 subpopulations available data were insufficient to provide an assessment of the current trend.

There are approximately 15,000 polar bears in Canada, accounting for 60 per cent of the world’s polar bear population, according to federal estimates.

Nature Canada and its supporters have been actively lobbying for the polar bear to be added to the Species at Risk list. More than 3,100 people sent letters demanding official designation, and over 40,000 people signed our petition for fast action on climate change to save the polar bear.

We encourage you to take part in the 30-day comment period – let Environment Minister Peter Kent know your views on listing the polar bear on Canada’s Species at Risk list.