Polar bear scientists unhappy with Nunavut reversal

GN not considering long-term future, scientists allege


The group that coordinates scientists who study polar bears around the world says the Government of Nunavut is wrong to reverse its position on the listing of polar bears under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Dan Shewchuk, Nunavut’s environment minister, announced May 28 that Nunavut will no longer Enviroment Canada’s attempt to list polar bears as threatened.

“We live in polar bear country.”We understand the polar bears, and we do actually think our polar bear population is very very healthy, with the exception of a couple of populations that we are taking action on,” he said.

But Shewchuk’s statement includes “misstatements which warranted direct rebuttal and clarification,” says Andrew Derocher of the Polar Bear Study Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Polar bears should be listed as “threatened” under SARA due to the threats posed to their survival by climate change and the resulting decline of sea ice, Derocher told Nunatsiaq News.

“Nunavut is really not addressing the science, and to date there has not been any report released to back up the position of Nunavut,” he said.

A SARA listing wouldn’t even have an effect on harvesting quotas, he said, although Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says a SARA listing would mandate a federal population management plan, which would interfere with Nunavut’s successful management of its polar bear populations.

Derocher dismissed that suggestion, saying “Ottawa has so little capacity to deal with endangered species, [that] there is no threat to regional or local management.”

“SARA act is a gutless piece of legislation when compared to the Endangered Species Act (of the United States),” which listed polar bears as a threatened species in 2008, Durocher said.

Nunavut isn’t looking to the future, 35 to 45 years from now, equal to two or three polar bear generations, Derocher said.

Part of the Nunavut government’s position is that polar bears can and have adapted to changes in climate in the past, according to Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and modern science.

But Derocher says that’s just not so, and that “the long-term situation for polar bears is extremely dire.”

Many polar bear populations are healthy and able to handle sustainable harvesting, he said.

But if the sea ice continues to shrink almost every year, that situation could change rapidly.

And natural climate change has already wiped out polar bears in some areas.

More than 10,000 years ago there were polar bears in what are now southern Sweden and Denmark, but that was during an Ice Age, he said.

When the climate warmed, the polar bears’ range shifted north or they died out.

When the climate changed gradually bears had a better chance to survive by ranging farther north than previously, but now the bears are running out of places to go.

Now the human-induced warming trend is much quicker, and polar bears won’t be able to adapt, Derocher said.

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