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Polar bear

Ottawa Citizen, December 1, 2012

Polar bear policy questioned
Canada called on to explain actions to environment group

By Bob Weber

Canada is being forced to explain its polar bear policies to an international environmental watchdog.

The Commission on Environmental Co-operation, which is part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has accepted a petition from a U.S.-based group that says Canada isn’t following its own laws on protecting the bears.

In accepting the petition, the commission has found that the Center for Biological Diversity has registered a legitimate concern under the terms of the treaty.

“The commission found that we had a sufficient allegation and provided sufficient documentation of the violation that we can move forward in this process,” Sarah Uhlemann, a lawyer with the centre, said Friday.

The petition, filed in November 2011, alleges that Canadian officials ignored the most recent science about climate change and the loss of Arctic sea ice when they ruled last year against changing the status of the bear from “special concern” to “threatened,” which would rule out hunting.

It also says that the Tory government had already broken its own laws by being more than three years late in filing a mandatory management plan for the Arctic predators. The petition concludes by suggesting that hunting quotas for the bears set by Inuit co-management boards are unsustainable for some populations.

Uhlemann said Canada’s most recent scientific assessment of bear populations minimized the impact of ice loss. The bears use sea ice as a hunting platform for seals, their primary food.

“They really didn’t address the effect of climate change, which is the biggest threat to this Arctic species.”

The U.S. listed polar bears as threatened in 2008, leaning heavily on a 2007 study that predicted the loss of sea ice could reduce bear numbers by two-thirds by 2050.

“The (Canadian) analysis dismissed this study as preliminary,” Uhlemann said.

“It’s not. In 2010, the same study was published in Nature magazine, which is one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific journals.”

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, one of the world’s largest scientific groups, has listed polar bears as “vulnerable,” roughly equivalent to Canada’s “threatened” status.

Bear numbers have always been controversial.

The union’s Polar Bear Specialist Group says there are between 20,000 and 25,000 bears in the world in 19 different population groups. Eight of those groups are declining, three are stable and one is increasing. The fate of the other seven is unknown.

Canada has until Jan. 23 to respond to the commission.

The Canadian Press

Copyright © 2012 The Ottawa Citizen.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton