Polar bear focus of conservation talks in Nunavut, N.W.T.

The future of the polar bear is being discussed at two meetings this week in Canada's North.

The future of the polar bear is being discussed at two meetings this week in Canada's North.

In Yellowknife, the federal committee that assesses what species are at risk of disappearing is holding one of its annual meetings to discuss which of about 50 species — including the polar bear — should be considered for protection.

The Committee on the Endangered Status of Wildlife in Canada meets twice a year to assess a list of species to consider for protection under the federal Species at Risk Act.

The committee is also looking at a variety of fish, insect and plant species for possible protection. Their recommendations go to the federal government, which can then designate a species under the act.

The committee will announce its recommendations Friday for more than 30 species of plants and animals, including the polar bear and the spotted owl.

The World Wildlife Fund has called on Ottawa to address threats to polar bears' survival, including a loss of Arctic sea ice and the leasing of the seabed for oil and gas exploration in Alaska and the Northwest Territories.

Peter Ewins, the wildlife fund's director of species conservation, said Canada will feel the weight of international pressure if it does not act to protect the bears.

"Global forces, and the views of millions of people around the world, will actually come to bear," Ewins told CBC News on Tuesday.

"We don't really want to — and don't need to at this point — repeat the seal boycotts from Europe and the East Coast and the ones from the past. But that will come if people do not make smart, preventative, accountable decisions about polar bear management."

Bowhead whale status to be examined again

The federal committee is also reconsidering the status of the eastern Arctic bowhead whale — currently a threatened species in Nunavut — in light of new information that suggests the whales' population may have recovered.

Ottawa designated the bowhead whale an endangered species in 1980, in both the eastern and western Arctic regions.

But in 2005, the whales' status was downgraded to threatened in the eastern Arctic, and to a species of special concern in the western Arctic.

After decades of saying bowhead whales faced extinction, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans released new numbers last month that show the whales' numbers have increased by 300 per cent in the last four years.

The department's latest estimates point to 14,400 bowhead whales in Canada, as opposed to 5,000 about four years ago.

Committee chairman Jeff Hutchings said that in light of the new numbers, the group will reassess the bowhead whale's status at its next meeting in November.

Inuit in Nunavut said those numbers support what hunters have said all along, and have since argued for higher hunting quotas.

Nunavut board begins hearings on bear hunt quota

Meanwhile, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board began public meetings Tuesday on the future of the polar bear hunt in the Baffin Bay region.

The board, which is holding the meetings in Pond Inlet, is considering the territorial government's proposal to cut the hunting quota for polar bears or ban the hunt temporarily.

The government has argued that the combined hunt in Baffin Bay by hunters in Nunavut and Greenland is unsustainable.

Hunters in Nunavut said hunters from Greenland are overhunting bears in the area, and called on the territorial government to talk to officials in Greenland before making a decision on hunting quotas.

More than 20 hunters from Qikiqtarjuaq and Clyde River have travelled to Pond Inlet for the meeting, as have scientists and Nunavut government officials.

Groups such as the World Wildlife Fund have also sent submissions to the Nunavut board.

Conservation groups are also awaiting a decision by the U.S. government, which has yet to announce whether it will list the polar bear as a threatened species. That decision was originally expected in January.