The Manitoba government has declared the polar bear a threatened animal under its Endangered Species Act.

The move means the government can restrict development on the bears' habitat on both Crown and privately-owned land along the province's Hudson Bay coastline.

"We must continue to take action to protect one of our province's most unique species, which is clearly being affected by climate change," Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said in a release issued Thursday.

Earlier spring ice break-up and longer ice-free periods on Hudson Bay is one factor in a decline in the bears' population, officials said. About 935 of the bears lived in the western Hudson Bay area in 2004.

The United States is currently debating whether to declare Alaska's polar bear a threatened species.

The government of Nunavut has fought that idea, saying polar bear populations in its area are sustainable. Part of Nunavut's economy relies on the dozens of American hunters that come to the Arctic every year to hunt the massive bears.

With files from The Canadian Press