The Canadian government has designated the polar bear a species of special concern under its Species at Risk Act (SARA), a move that requires officials to develop a detailed management plan within three years.
While the listing does bring some attention to polar bears, PBI's senior scientist, Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, said it's a minimal designation, just one step above not at risk.
“Canada’s polar bears actually fit the criteria of threatened under the Species at Risk Act when you consider the data—and some populations, such as Western Hudson Bay, could be classified as endangered,” said Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, PBI’s chief scientist, “The species of special concern designation is a conservative listing that falls far short of what the government could have done.”
The scientists on PBI’s advisory council all say that sea ice losses from climate change are the single biggest threat to polar bears—and that some populations in Canada, such as Western Hudson Bay and Davis Strait, are at great risk.
Because of regional differences in Canada in how polar bears are faring, Amstrup suggested that an even better way for the country to classify its polar bears would be by population.
"Right now the bears in the southern part of their range are at much higher risk," he said, "while those farther north, in very cold areas, may actually benefit for a while by a warming environment. But I have to emphasize that ultimately all polar bears will suffer if global warming continues unabated."
He noted that an effective management plan needs to include greenhouse gas mitigation.
“The polar bear’s habitat is literally melting away from human-caused global warming,” he said. “The important point to remember is that time remains to save them if we get our act together and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Photo ©Randy Kokesch.