Saturday, April 26, 2008

Polar bear extinction threat 'not imminent'

A scientific panel has urged Canada to act to safeguard the Canadian polar bear, which it deemed "a species of special concern" but not imminently threatened with extinction.

At its April 20-25 meeting in Yellowknife, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the status of 31 species, including the polar bear, spotted owl, Western chorus frog, and Vancouver Island marmot.

COSEWIC chair Jeffrey Hutchings told a press conference it "has reassessed the polar bear as a species of special concern ... a species at risk in Canada ... [and] in trouble."

"This is a species that is highly sensitive to human activities," he said.

"In some respects, the polar bear is close to meeting some of the criteria [for threatened species] ... in terms of the magnitude of population decline in parts of the bear's range."

But, he added, "Based on the best available information at hand, there was insufficient reason to believe that it is at imminent danger of extinction."

In its assessment, COSEWIC noted that polar bear populations are declining in some areas, are stable in others, but are increasing in some parts.

The total population in Canada, where two thirds of the world's population of the animal lives, is estimated at 15,500 bears.

The primary threats to the polar bear, said Mr Hutchings, "are over-harvesting in the waters between Baffin Island and Greenland, a decline of summer sea ice in southern parts of its range, and oil and gas development."

Canada's Environment Minister now has until November to accept COSEWIC's latest recommendation, reject it or ask for a further review.

If he accepts COSEWIC's recommendation, the Government must prepare a conservation plan addressing threats to the bear and to its habitat.

This is the third time in recent years the polar bear has been listed by COSEWIC as a special concern.

The Environment Minister rejected two previous assessments, citing concerns about insufficient or outdated data, and asked for more research.


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