Canada needs to im­prove po­lar bear pro­tec­tion: World Wildlife Fund

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Bob WE­BER

Canada’s po­lar bear pro­tec­tion is get­ting good marks from an in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion group, but the World Wildlife Fund says the coun­try could bet­ter pro­tect im­por­tant habi­tat and min­i­mize threats to the iconic preda­tors.

“They largely did a pretty good job of ac­com­plish­ing what they needed to,” said Bran­don Lafor­est, who helped de­velop the score­card.

“They did not do a good job of bring­ing it up to the next level.”

And one of the coun­try’s lead­ing po­lar bear ex­perts said Canada needs to do much bet­ter than the rating sug­gests.

“I think they’re be­ing very kind,” said An­drew De­rocher of the Univer­sity of Al­berta.

The group is­sued the score­card for all five na­tions with bear pop­u­la­tions. They were graded on how well they’ve ful­filled prom­ises made two years ago as part of a 10-year plan to pro­tect po­lar bears.

Canada – home to two-thirds of the world’s roughly 25,000 bears – is in the mid­dle of the pack, be­hind Nor­way but well ahead of Rus­sia.

Canada is praised for com­mu­ni­cat­ing the threat of cli­mate change, mon­i­tor­ing pop­u­la­tions, man­ag­ing hunts and trade and in­cor­po­rat­ing Inuit knowl­edge.

“We com­mend them for their com­mit­ment,” Lafor­est said. “Canada is lead­ing the way.”

But there are prob­lems. Canada couldn’t deal with an en­vi­ron­men­tal emer­gency that could af­fect the bears, such as an oil or fuel spill from ships.

Not enough is known about the High Arc­tic habi­tat where the bears are likely to fol­low the steady re­treat of sea ice.

And Lafor­est said while Canada does a bet­ter job than most coun­tries at sur­vey­ing pop­u­la­tions, it isn’t enough in a rapidly chang­ing Arc­tic.

“When you have decade-old es­ti­mates of pop­u­la­tions and you’re try­ing to man­age them ac­tively in an ac­tively chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, we feel even though Canada al­lots $1.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally for those sur­veys, there needs to be a re-eval­u­a­tion.”

De­rocher agreed much of the pop­u­la­tion in­for­ma­tion Canada re­lies on is woe­fully dated.

“Our in­ven­tory fre­quency, while we have moved to im­prove that, is still grossly in­ad­e­quate,” he said. “It might be ad­e­quate for harvest man­age­ment, but in a chang­ing cli­mate it prob­a­bly is not.

“We’ve got many pop­u­la­tions that are com­ing on 20 years without re-in­ven­tory.”

For one pop­u­la­tion sus­pected to be in de­cline, sur­vey re­sults have yet to be re­leased although the field­work was com­pleted four years ago.

“It’s a ca­pac­ity is­sue – huge ar­eas, lots of de­mands,” De­rocher said.

Three of Canada’s 13 pop­u­la­tions are known to be de­clin­ing. Bears along the west coast of Hud­son Bay are down any­where from 11 to 30 per cent, while those along the Beau­fort Sea coast have lost up to half their num­bers.

“There was a new aerial sur­vey just done. My un­der­stand­ing was they found so few bears, they may not be able to get an es­ti­mate.”

Rapid change in the Arc­tic means that to­day’s crit­i­cal bear habi­tat is likely to be less so in the fu­ture, said De­rocher. He said Canada needs to con­duct more re­search in the High Arc­tic, the so-called Last Ice Area.

“The crit­i­cal habi­tat that we want to un­der­stand and pro­tect long-term would be those ar­eas in the high lat­i­tudes of the Cana­dian ar­chi­pel­ago.

And yet, there’s been vir­tu­ally no work in this area.

“Do we see a move­ment to set up long-term mon­i­tor­ing to un­der­stand that ecosys­tem? I don’t see a lot of ev­i­dence.”

There are prob­lems. Canada couldn’t deal with an en­vi­ron­men­tal emer­gency that could af­fect the bears, such as an oil or fuel spill from ships.

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