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Species at Risk Committee reassesses polar bear

The Species at Risk Committee has said the polar bear is a species of special concern in the NWT, as climate change threatens the long-term health of polar bear populations.

The committee’s concerns focus on climate change’s impacts on a polar bear’s ability to breed and find food.

“The re-assessment reflects concerns that changing climatic conditions may alter polar bear denning habitat, render previously important habitats unsuitable, and/or alter polar bear movements and range,” said in a statement.

“Special concern” is the lowest on the Species at Risk Committee’s scale. “Special concern” means an animal may become threatened or endangered due to biological factors and a number of threats.

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The level above that is threatened, then endangered, extirpated — extinct in the NWT but still alive elsewhere — and extinct.

The last time the polar bear was assessed was in 2012, when it was also classified as a species of “Special Concern.”

This is the first Species at Risk assessment done since the Species at Risk Committee established a new framework for making decisions which put greater emphasis on traditional knowledge.

The change would help improve assessments by incorporating long-held and traditional knowledge into how decisions are made about what animals are endangered, according to Leon Andrew, Chair of the Northwest Territories Species at Risk Committee.

“People living off the land, they know about their own territories, and what they do,” he said. “They can choose their criteria, the information they know they can share, there’ll be this strength added to the search team.”

The recent helicopter accident in Nunavut, involving Great Slave Helicopters, occurred during a wildlife survey observing polar bears. In a statement, the Species at Risk Committee sent their condolences to the crew.

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