North

Don't put polar bears on 'threatened' list, Nunavut tells U.S.

Nunavut Environment Minister Patterk Netser appealed to U.S. decision-makers this week not to list polar bears as "threatened" under its Endangered Species Act.

Nunavut Environment Minister Patterk Netser appealed to U.S. decision-makers this week not to list polar bears as "threatened" under its Endangered Species Act.

Netser, who spoke at a hearing on the matter Monday in Washington, told the Nunavut legislative assembly on Thursday that the territorial government has made a formal submission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to voice its concern over the move.

"Nunavut has a very effective polar bear management system and we are managing our polar bear population on a sustainable basis, in a way that provides economic benefits to Nunavummiut," he said. "This system is a proven success and we will fight to preserve it."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's review of the polar bear's status comes amid concerns that global warming is melting away the icy habitats where the animals live. In December, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed listing polar bears as a threatened species.

If the polar bear were listed as a threatened species, all U.S. federal agencies would have to ensure that anything they authorize that might affect polar bears will not jeopardize their survival or the sea ice where they live. That could include oil and gas exploration, commercial shipping or even releases of toxic contaminants or climate-affecting pollution.

While listing polar bears as threatened would not have legal consequences for Canada, the Nunavut government is worried it may lead to a ban on importing trophy bears to the U.S., and essentially shut down the American sport hunt of polar bears in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Experts now believe there are up to 25,000 polar bears remaining on the planet, and that number is in decline.

The non-profit group Polar Bears International estimates that of the 22,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world, about 60 per cent live in Canada's North.

Netser told Monday's hearing in Washington that polar bears "are not endangered. They are not threatened at the moment. We have an abundance of them in our area."

Netser said he and Premier Paul Okalik are also lobbying Canadian officials and politicians to press the U.S. on Nunavut's concerns.

A final decision on the polar bear's listing is due by January 2008. The Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comments on the issue until April 9. It has also held public hearings in Anchorage and Barrow, Alaska.

With files from the Associated Press

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