The U.S. government has listed the polar bear as threatened, stating that climate change is destroying vital polar bear habitat, putting the species at risk of extinction. This puts increasing pressure on the Canadian government to recognize and act on the accelerating impacts of climate change on Arctic communities and species, including polar bears.
Why is this important?
Listing the polar bear as threatened clearly acknowledges the unfortunate fact that climate change impacts are already threatening animals and habitats, and illustrates the urgency of preparing for and adapting to a rapidly changing climate.
Further, the threatened species designation commits the U.S. government to provide additional legal protections for the bears, including the conservation of critical habitat and the development of a government-supported recovery plan.
However, yesterday’s victory will be hollow unless it prompts action by both Canada and the U.S. to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which are melting the Arctic sea ice on which polar bears rely.
What does this mean for Canada?
The U.S. decision shows that Canada is increasingly being left behind in the fight against climate change. Canada is still operating under a “business as usual” approach. The federal government is supporting accelerated development of the tar sands and is pushing oil and gas development in the Arctic, all while greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
This decision by the U.S. to list the polar bear as “Threatened” reinforces the urgency of the three actions that WWF-Canada has called on Prime Minister Harper to take:
- Place a moratorium on new industrial development in areas of high value to polar bears. In particular, stop the June 2nd leasing of areas for oil and gas development in the Beaufort Sea, at least until proper planning has been done to protect sensitive habitats.
- Ensure any hunting for polar bears is fully sustainable.
- Most importantly, quickly stop, then reverse the rise in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, so we are doing our part in the global fight against climate change.
What can Canadians do?
The Canadian government has a chance to respond quickly to yesterday’s recognition of the threats to polar bears. Five huge areas in the Canada’s Beaufort Sea are poised to be leased to companies for oil and gas development. These areas include essential habitat for polar bears, belugas, and bowhead whales. Companies have until June 2nd to bid on the leases, after which the government will award development rights to the highest bidder.
Please take 20 minutes to help protect this vital habitat for belugas, bowhead whales and polar bears. Here’s what you can do, but it must be done no later than May 28:
1. Send a letter to your MP. You can send this directly, but handwritten letters are best and the more personal your letter, the more attention it will be given. Remember to send a copy to Prime Minister Harper. No postage is necessary to write to your MP.
2. Call your Member of Parliament (MP). Speak to the staff or leave a message indicating you would like the government to hold off on awarding oil and gas leases in critical polar bear habitat in and around the Beaufort Sea until management and conservation plans are in place. Always request a response from your MP.
3. Get at least one of your neighbours to write and call your MP. Ask them to join with you and WWF-Canada in this call to hold off on oil development in the Beaufort Sea.
4. Send a copy of your letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
To learn more about polar bears in Canada, visit the WWF polar bear tracker website
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Check out the "Important Links to Sites about Polar Bears" in the sidebar to see organizations doing research and working to preserve the magnificent Polar Bear.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Posted by Urso Branco at 1:15 PM