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Women for Nature look at Biodiversity Barriers and Drivers
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Women for Nature look at Biodiversity Barriers and Drivers

[caption id="attachment_35797" align="alignleft" width="150"] Kayla O'Neill, Carleton University Practicum Student[/caption] This blog was written by Carleton Practicum Student Kayla O'Neill as a summary of the latest Women for Nature e-Dialogues conversation. Biodiversity conservation is an issue that requires work from multiple scales, from government to local. Canada as a whole can take these recommendations to further our efforts in biodiversity conservation across the nation. To look deeper into these issues, Changing the conversation hosted the third e-dialogue from our four part series Biodiversity Conversations: How important are the Common Loon and Polar Bears to Canadians. Led by Women for Nature, the panelists brought a variety of very interesting perspectives and knowledge to this specific issue. When looking at the scales in regards to biodiversity conservation, there are different levels to consider. A first one is looking at the different scales of government. There needs to be collaborations between the scales of government, as there are currently gaps. These gaps between the levels of government and the private ownership and citizens needs to be fixed in order for establish greater protection of biodiversity. Another scale that need considering is the emotional scale. An example being that Polar Bears are "emotionally valued more" and are a recognizes as a symbol to conservation efforts, therefore there has been more advertising and care for the species. Overall, all scales need to work together to achieve the most conservation possible. This e-Dialogue also looked at what Canada can do specifically to help biodiversity conservation. Collaborations and education were the two biggest things that Canada can do to protect biodiversity. The first being collaboration between agencies and different organizations. There needs to be a network of connections for biodiversity strategies to have the best effect. A second thing is educating the public on the issues surrounding biodiversity and what can be done to help. A starting point being education in school systems and putting biodiversity into the curriculum so to engage youth on this topic. In addition, there needs to be greater awareness on raising efforts to protect biodiversity to the general public. An overall agreement from this talk was that Canada needs more conservation areas. Funding is an issue so there needs to be better funding options and the recent federal budget is the first step to this. To view the full conversation click here for the PDF, or check out our biodiversity library to learn more from a collection of resources from the changing the conversation platform. The last conversation will bring together the recommendations to develop an action agenda for biodiversity conservation in Canada.

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We know that ducks quack and cows moo, but what then, do Polar Bears do?
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We know that ducks quack and cows moo, but what then, do Polar Bears do?

[caption id="attachment_24637" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Guest Blogger Tina-Louise Rossit,
Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger, Tina-Louise Rossit.  Decoding the grunts and growls of the great white bears The Polar Bear. These great white bears of the north are iconic mammals known for their white coats, enormous wide paws and exceptional hunting skills for their favourite prey choice: seals. Many think of Polar Bears as silent giants, being the largest terrestrial carnivores, but in reality, these bears can be pretty vocal! Now then, what exactly does a Polar Bear sound like? Interestingly, Polar Bears have a wide variety of sounds from growling to humming, chuffing to crying. They may not be loud but they do vocalize when they are distressed, hungry, angry and content. Scent and body language represent a Polar Bear’s main system of communication but vocalization is important for mother to cub relationships, as well as for resolving disputes between males fights for female mates. Let’s begin with Polar Bear cubs. Cubs are dependant on their mother for food and protection from day one. They are born in the den their mother made and only emerge in the springtime when the coldest months have past. Just like any other youngling, they vocalize when they need something, whether it's food or for the mother's affection. Among the bear family, Polar Bears are unique with their “I’m happy” sound. Cubs and adults will make what can be described as an engine humming sound when they are content and/or sleeping. Adults will have a deeper rumble than cubs and as the cubs get older, they communicate to their siblings and mother by grunts and growls. Once they reached adulthood, Polar Bears are solitary animals. Unlike other bear species, Polar Bears are not very territorial. Males and females' range frequently tends to overlap. Problems usually only occur during breeding season when males have to compete for females to mate with. Males will growl viciously as they fight in this situation. Overall, Polar Bear communication is best through other senses than vocalization. Their noses are their number one communication tool as they are highly sensitive to smells. During breeding season, the male scents out a female by her footprints. When hunting, these bears can even smell their prey underwater. Polar Bear communication is still on its way on to being fully understood. With zoos housing Polar Bears, zoo research is in progress to find out more about the great arctic bears. Public visitors also get to see how Polar Bears behave. Soon the sounds of these majestic bears will be known just like knowing that a duck quacks and a cow moos! For more information on Polar Bears, click here.

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Video: Polar Bears Need Sea Ice to Survive
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Video: Polar Bears Need Sea Ice to Survive

Wow. This powerful video will keep you watching until the very end. Polar Bears need sea ice to survive and it's harder and harder to find with their habitat under threat. [video type="youtube" id="hYM4ndcV4Uo"] [h/t: iflscience.com]

Polar Bear Roams Parliament Hill on Weekend
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Polar Bear Roams Parliament Hill on Weekend

[three_fourth]There was a polar bear roaming Parliament Hill this weekend! But while there were certainly a lot of people -- and dogs -- who were surprised at the sight, it was all for a good cause: raising awareness this Earth Day about the plight of the world's largest land predator.
Inside the polar bear costume -- yes, of course it wasn't a real bear -- was Dr. Karen Ewing, a physician who travelled all the way from Economy, Nova Scotia with her stepdaughter Marlee. Together with Susan Russell, a lawyer and friend from Chicago, the women spoke with families and other visitors about the dramatic changes, caused in large part by global warming, that are taking place in the Arctic, threatening 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. According to University of Alberta researcher Andrw Derocher, females are 30 to 40 kilograms lighter than they were in the early 1980s. And they’re producing fewer cubs. While Karen operated the life-like bear costume, made by Puppet Farm Arts and complete with levers to manipulate the front paws and face, Susan and Marlee handed out postcards, books and bookmarks with information about the polar bear. They were also encouraging people to sign Nature Canada's petition calling for action to reduce the effects of climate change on polar bear habitat. A big thank you to Karen, Marlee and Susan for your volunteer efforts and for spreading the word! Check out these photos. [/three_fourth][one_fourth_last]Image of polar bear mascot [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of people with the polar bear masot Marlee, Karen (in costume) and Susan on Parliament Hill, Ottawa[/caption] Image of the polar bear mascot [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a dog sniffing the polar bear mascot Dogs didn't know what to make of the bear![/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240"]Image of books on polar bears Books, sticksers, bookmarks raise awareness[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of polar bear information posters Karen's displays tell the polar bear's story[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of polar bear information posters Thanks for telling people about our petition Karen![/caption] [/one_fourth_last]

Polar Bear Listed As Species of Special Concern
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Polar Bear Listed As Species of Special Concern

Polar-bear-and-cub_takeacti
Thanks in large part to letters you sent, the federal government has officially declared the Polar Bear a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act. Nearly 63,000 Nature Canada supporters asked the federal government to take action for polar bears. You asked for these three things:
  • List the polar bear in law,
  • Complete the required management plan ahead of the three-year legal deadline and
  • Take action on climate change to protect polar bear habitat
Today, Nature Canada supports the government’s decision to recognize the perilous condition of Canada’s Polar Bear population by listing it under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The listing in law officially recognises the at-risk status which the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has assigned to the polar bear since 1991. This important milestone means that, by law, a plan must be devised within three years to prevent the species from becoming endangered or threatened. During the public comment period for the proposal to list the Polar Bear as a species of special concern, 99% of the comments received by the government supported the proposal. The vast majority of comments called for official designation under SARA and fast action on climate change. The message was clear: listing the polar bear, coupled with action on climate change, are necessary to save one of Canada’s most iconic species. With nearly 15,000 polar bears, Canada accounts for 60 per cent of the world's polar bear population. But dramatic changes, caused by global warming, are taking place in the Arctic that threaten the survival of this spectacular species. Climate change is causing polar ice caps to melt, robbing the bears of the ice floes they need to hunt prey. 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. Thousands of Nature Canada supporters asked the federal government to act now before it’s too late – and  much work still needs to be done to protect the Polar Bear. Nature Canada urges the federal government to take fast action on climate change to prevent the extinction of this spectacular species, and strongly recommends that a management plan – mandated by law – be completed in advance of the three-year deadline.

Support Adding the Polar Bear to the Species At Risk List: Send Your Letter Now!
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Support Adding the Polar Bear to the Species At Risk List: Send Your Letter Now!

Last week we shared the news that Canada's Environment Minister, Peter Kent, has proposed adding the polar bear to the Species at Risk list. Thousands of Nature Canada supporters have sent letters and signed petitions to the federal government demanding action to protect the polar bear, as global warming destroys the bears' habitat and scientists raise warnings about the future of the species. There is a 30-day comment period to voice support for the Environment Minister's proposal, and we've prepared a sample letter that you can send. Here it is. The deadline for adding your comments is August 1, 2011. So make sure Minister Kent knows you support adding the polar bear to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act as a species of special concern. Every letter counts!

Polar Bear to be Added to Species at Risk List
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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.

Displaying Unusual Behaviour: Polar Bears Observed Preying on Bird Nests
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Displaying Unusual Behaviour: Polar Bears Observed Preying on Bird Nests

Polar bears are known to consume a wide range of marine mammals, with chicks and bird eggs not featuring prominently in their diet. So when scientists observed a group of polar bears feeding on a colony of arctic birds in Hudson Bay, they took note. Reporting their findings in the scientific journal, Polar Biology, the researchers speculated that the unusual behavior could be the result of sea ice breaking up earlier in the year, among other factors. Rising arctic temperatures have caused sea ice, used by polar bears to hunt for seal and other mammals during the winter months, to break apart up to a month earlier than 20 years ago. The early break up happens to coincide with the period when arctic birds, such as snow geese and thick-billed murres, build their nests. Polar bears, finding themselves on shore earlier in the year, have been spotted feeding on chicks and bird eggs on Coats and Southampton Islands. An Environment Canada news story highlights the potential for the bears to increasingly depend on birds as a food source. Should we be alarmed? Keep in mind that these observations are anecdotal, but they do point to the potential for climate change to impact the delicate balance in the north. As the arctic environment continues to change, complex ecological interactions are being played out with potentially troubling results for birds.

Government to Ratify Amendments to Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, Protecting Canadians and their Environment
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Government to Ratify Amendments to Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, Protecting Canadians and their Environment

In the past, we’ve blogged about the effects of persistent organohalogen contaminants (OHCs), a form of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), on Arctic wildlife - such as the weakening of kidney and liver functioning in polar bears, which decreases their ability to adapt to extreme environments like the Arctic. Yesterday, the Ministers of Environment and Foreign Affairs announced that they would be ratifying amendments to the Protocol on POPs, under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). The amendments will add five additional substances to the Protocol’s list of 16 susbtances, which include DDT and PCBs. All substances listed under the Protocol are either banned or restricted in their use and production. POPs are defined by Environment Canada as: Toxic substances released into the environment through a variety of human activities. They have adverse effects on the health of ecosystems, wildlife and people. POPs tend to concentrate in colder climates such as Canada’s North, as well as in the Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence River.As chemical compounds, POPs are very stable and consequently can last in the environment for years or decades. POPs are also bio-accumulative, meaning they can concentrate in living organisms and accumulate up the food chain through fish, predatory birds, mammals and humans. POPs can enter the human system through traditional foods such as beluga muktuk (skin) and seal blubber. Aboriginal peoples, who rely heavily on such country foods, are particularly affected. Some POPs can be passed on from mother to child across the placenta, or through breast milk.POPs can travel great distances around the globe through the atmosphere. Touching down on oceans and freshwater bodies, they then evaporate into the atmosphere once again, and travel further to touch down in another spot until they ultimately gather in the colder climates. This is known as the grasshopper effect. Additionally, the government has agreed to changes in the Protocol’s annex aimed at facilitating compliance. Canada’s Environmental Protection Act is the main piece of legislation that deals with POPs. Other legislation includes the Pest Control Products Act, the Fisheries Act and the Hazardous Products Act.

Study Shows Toxins Affect Polar Bears, Gulls, other Arctic Wildlife
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Study Shows Toxins Affect Polar Bears, Gulls, other Arctic Wildlife

A recently published report uses new data on the effects of persistent organohalogen contaminants (OHCs) on Arctic wildlife to evaluate health risks of a range of species, including polar bears, killer whales and black-backed gulls. The study, created for the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, looked at OHC contamination in relation to other stressors like disease, predation, climate change, food scarcity, and body condition, to see how contaminants affect species at a population level. For the Arctic's top predator, the research findings:

have highlighted that OHCs adversely affect polar bear liver and kidney functions, immune response and endocrine system, which helps regulate growth, cognitive abilities, and body temperature. These impairments may alter the ability for bears to acclimatize and adapt to extreme Arctic environments.
When these effects are considered in combination with climate change, natural periods of fasting, cub survival rate, and female reproductive impairment, polar bear populations in East Greenland and Svalbard may be at higher risk of chronic population-level stress. Studies of other species found similar trends. The effects of certain OHCs on great black-backed gulls from northern Norway, for example, appeared to have been aggravated when the birds were exposed to parasites, climate change, and food scarcity, among other things. More details from this study are summarized in Environment Canada's quarterly newsletter, Wildlife and Landscape Science News, which, incidentally, I always find an interesting read.

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