November 13, 2008 08:00 ET

WWF-Canada: Environment Minister Prentice Must Act Now to Prevent Over-Hunting of Polar Bears

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 13, 2008) - In a letter sent this week, WWF-Canada called on Environment Minister Jim Prentice to quickly take steps to prevent over-hunting of the Baffin Bay polar bear sub-population, which straddles the border between Canada and Greenland. It was recently revealed that both Nunavut and Greenland will continue to allow over-hunting of this shared sub-population despite expert recommendations to significantly reduce the number of bears killed.

While Nunavut and Greenland have responsibility for setting harvest levels, the federal government is responsible for international cross-border wildlife issues.

"It has become clear this week that both Nunavut and Greenland allocations of allowable hunting levels for the coming year would vastly exceed any sustainable harvest level," said Dr. Peter Ewins, Director of Species Conservation for WWF-Canada. "In the absence of any formal bilateral agreement or other arrangements to ensure sustainable management of this shared polar bear sub-population, WWF-Canada urges Minister Prentice to take immediate action to stop this cross-border wildlife situation from spiraling even further into a major international issue."

According to the Nunavut government's recent analyses, over the past 15 years this sub-population (one of 13 in Canada) has been over-harvested in Greenland and Nunavut, resulting in a 30 per cent decline from an estimated 2,100 to 1,500 animals. Yet, both Greenland and Nunavut decision-makers have confirmed their intentions to allow continued harvesting in the coming year at these unsustainable levels, allocating 68 bears for west Greenland, and 105 bears for Nunavut portions of this sub-population. At a staggering 12 per cent of the estimated population size, this combined harvest level is two to three times the widely accepted maximum sustainable yield levels for this species-even without taking into account the 30 per cent drop in the population over the last decade. Additionally, the impacts of climate change, and in particular major shifts in sea ice dynamics, have yet to be taken into account by Canada and Greenland.

WWF-Canada is calling on Minister Prentice, by the end of this month, to:

1. Convene and lead a Canadian National Roundtable on polar bear conservation for all key stakeholders to agree on purpose and shared new approaches in order to ensure persistence of Canada's polar bears (almost 2/3 of the world total);

2. Work with the Nunavut government to ensure immediate cessation of further permitted harvesting of polar bears in the depleted Baffin Bay sub-population, until an effective Bilateral Agreement is in place between Canada and Greenland, and until this sub-population has recovered from recent over-hunting; and,

3. Commit to implementing a comprehensive Conservation Action Plan for Canada's polar bears before the end of 2009 that addresses all the major threats to this species and is consistent with the 1973 International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat.

"This spring, in response to U.S. and Canadian announcements about the elevated risks to persistence and survival of polar bears, former Environment Minister John Baird promised that his government would take the swift, firm actions necessary to recover and ensure the survival of Canada's polar bears," concluded Ewins. "This is a critical opportunity for Minister Prentice to honour that commitment and ensure that any hunting is sustainable."

Dr. Ewins is currently monitoring polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, and is available for telephone or video interviews.

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This news release and associated material can be found on www.wwf.ca.

Contact Information

  • In Churchill, Manitoba:
    Kyle Ferguson, Manager, Communications, WWF-Canada
    Direct Tel: (204) 675-2157
    Tel. with answering machine: (204) 675-2162
    Cell - unavailable
    Email: kferguson@wwfcanada.org