Nunavut reverses stand on polar bear status

Territorial environment minister now opposes “special concern” federal listing


Nunavut is now opposed to the listing of polar bears under Canada’s Species At Risk Act.

At a press conference May 28, Environment Minister Dan Shewchuk said he has reversed his previously-held position, following consultation with hunters and elders.

In late 2008, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada proposed the listing polar bears as a “species of special concern.”

COSEWIC has stated that reduced sea ice due to climate change is shrinking polar bear habitat.

Although the species as a whole is healthy, COSEWIC has argued that the population will decline significantly in the future, justifying the listing under SARA.

Shewchuk said he could not justify supporting the listing since it’s based on what might happen in the future, not on what is happening right now.

At the same time, Inuit across Nunavut report seeing more polar bears than ever before.

If a population decline emerges in the future, the government will address it at that time, Shewchuk said.

Shewchuk said there’s no doubt that climate change is occurring , but also that it’s still uncertain how fast it’s happening.

He said polar bears are adaptable and have adapted to changing climatic conditions in the past.

Polar bears have been listed as a species of special concern since late 2002, under legislation preceding SARA. The current review of their status began in 2008.

The SARA “special concern” listing would require that population management plans for polar bears be assembled over the next three years, with input from all relevant federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal agencies.

Nunavut already has a population management scheme in place.

The Species at Risk Act states that if there’s already an adequate population management in place, the federal minister of environment can adopt it as the plan required under the act or incorporate it into a larger plan.

Shewchuk said the listing would not affect traditional Inuit harvesting rights, nor would it affect sport hunters.

Shewchuk said he sent a letter to federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice on his position.

Prentice has the final decision on how to list animals under SARA.

Calls to Prentice’s office were not returned on the afternoon of May 28.

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