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Environment

NWT Species at Risk Committee reassesses polar bear status


The Northwest Territories Species at Risk Committee is recommending a number of measures to enhance monitoring and protection of polar bears. 

In a news release on Wednesday, the committee said it met on April 15 and 16 to reassess the status of polar bears in the NWT. The committee said factors threatening polar bear populations include climate change, invasive research techniques, pollution, potential offshore oil and gas development, increased ship traffic, pathogens, and changes to habitats.

The committee is recommending more support for on-the-ground community-based monitoring of polar bears, alongside research on climate change and how polar bears respond to changes in sea ice.

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The committee also recommends protocols for industry and shipping traffic through the Northwest Passage, tools to mitigate climate change impacts, and an on-schedule review of Canada’s offshore oil and gas moratorium.

Since 2014, polar bears have been listed as a species of special concern under the NWT’s Species at Risk Act. 

A plan was created in 2017 to protect bears in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region while maintaining traditional Inuvialuit use. 

In the NWT, polar bears are from four subpopulations shared with Alaska, the Yukon, and Nunavut. Estimates suggest around 1,000 mature polar bears live only in the NWT. That population is considered most likely to decrease over the next three generations. 

Community knowledge-holders say polar bears are not as big as they used to be but there is not agreement on population-wide changes in body conditions. Knowledge-holders also suggest polar bears may be adjusting their range farther north and farther out on the ice.

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Knowledge-holders say they are not seeing declines in polar bear populations at this time, and believe polar bears are highly intelligent animals that can adapt to climate change.

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