Opinion: Develop an Arctic-wide conservation plan for wild reindeer and caribou

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WWF-Canada -

To many, the Arctic is a faraway and mysterious place. To others, it’s home. To many Canadians, it’s an important part of our identity, making up almost 40% of Canada’s landmass and two-thirds of our coastline.

The Arctic is home to the Inuit, who have lived there for thousands of years, and to remarkable species – like polar bears and narwhal – many of which live nowhere else on the planet.

We know that the Arctic is changing at a record pace, one unseen in previous generations. It is warming at twice the average global rate, causing sea ice – the foundation of Arctic life – to melt, changing the face and reality of the region. These changes are affecting wildlife and communities, offering both challenges and opportunities.

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Sav­ing the Arc­tic with science, re­search

Gath­er­ing of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 25 coun­tries aims to raise pro­file of strate­gies needed to address en­vi­ron­men­tal change It’s the part of the world that is chang­ing most rapidly and one that sci­en­tists say we know far too lit­tle about. Now science min­is­ters and their des­ig­nates from 25 govern­ments around the world, in­clud­ing Canada, are flock­ing to a meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day with the aim of im­prov­ing Arc­tic re­search. Billed as the first of its kind, the White House-led meet­ing is an effort by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to raise the pro­file of Arc­tic science against the back­drop of rapid en­vi­ron­men­tal change due to global warm­ing. It is also marks an op­por­tu­nity for the out­go­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent to bur­nish his legacy in the North fol­low­ing a visit to Alaska last year and a joint state­ment is­sued with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau in May in which the two lead­ers pledged to col­lab­o­rate on Arc­tic lead­er­ship. Canada will have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence at the meet­ing with Cana­dian ex­perts speak­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing and STEM (science, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics) ed­u­ca­tion in the North. Fed­eral Science Min­is­ter Kirsty Duncan is sched­uled to co-chair a panel on re­gional re­silience, an in­creas­ingly press­ing theme for Arc­tic na­tions now that cli­mate change is on course to ut­terly trans­form po­lar com­mu­ni­ties and the en­vi­ron­ments they de­pend on over the course of this cen­tury. “We have to lis­ten to in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties … what are they see­ing now?” said Ms. Duncan, who added that she plans to em­pha­size the in­clu­sion of tra­di­tional knowl­edge along with science to in­form pol­icy de­ci­sions and the need to part­ner with in­dige­nous com­mun- ities “to use science as a tool to help im­prove the health and well-be­ing of those liv­ing in the Arc­tic.” Or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing in­dige­nous groups are in­cluded in the meet­ing, which brings to­gether all eight na­tions that to­gether make up the Arc­tic Coun­cil as well as the larger circle of na­tions with ob­server sta­tus on the coun­cil, among oth­ers. The meet­ing comes at a crit­i­cal junc­ture for Cana­dian Arc­tic re­search. In 2017, the fed­er­ally funded re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion Arc­tic Net, which over­sees science con­ducted on the Cana­dian Coast Guard ice­breaker Amund­sen, comes to the end of its sec­ond seven-year run and can no longer be renewed. At the same time, the Cana­dian High Arc­tic Re­search Sta­tion (CHARS), a new fed­eral fa­cil­ity un­der con­struc­tion at Cam­bridge Bay, is set to be­gin its op­er­a­tions in phases over the next two years. “It’s a par­tic­u­larly good time for Canada to look at what its re­search pri­or­i­ties are in the Arc­tic be­cause there’s an open door at the mo­ment,” said Clive Te­sar, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the WWF Arc­tic pro­gram, based in Ot­tawa, and co-au­thor of a pol­icy pa­per pub­lished last week in the jour­nal Science that out­lines a more strate­gic global ap­proach to Arc­tic re­search. “We can’t leave it to na­tional re­search agen­das alone,” he said. “We have to have a co­or­di­nated and co­her­ent ap­proach be­cause with­out that we’re re­ally not go­ing to get the sort of science that we need to in­form the man­age­ment and pol­icy we need.” A more in­te­grated ap­proach may also help with the ongoing dilemma that Canada faces in the Arc­tic arena, said David Scott, pres­i­dent of Po­lar Knowl­edge Canada, which over­sees CHARS. While about one-quar­ter of the Arc­tic falls within Canada’s bor­ders, the coun­try’s do­mes­tic re­search ca­pac­ity is not enough to cover all the science that should be done there. Dr. Scott said that through part­ner­ships and col­lab­o­ra­tion, Canada was in a good po­si­tion “to lever­age in ad­di­tional qual­i­fied play­ers from other coun­tries to as­sist us with tack­ling what is re­ally part of the global agenda.” Mari­beth Mur­ray, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arc­tic In­sti­tute of North Amer­ica, based at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary, said Canada was also ham­pered by the lack of a com­mon fund­ing stream that would help Cana­dian sci­en­tists to de­velop a uni­fied Arc­tic science strat­egy and work with in­ter­na­tional part­ners. “It’s hard to co-or­di­nate when you don’t have co-or­di­nated mech­a­nisms.”

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