Species of special concern status doesn’t block hunting or require any critical habitat designations
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Canada, home to about 60 percent of the world’s polar bears, has decided to list the Arctic predator as a species of special concern and will develop a management plan for the bears within three years.
The listing comes under the Species at Risk Act, which is Canada’s version of the Endangered Species Act, but the special concern status doesn’t require the country to take any meaningful steps to protect the bears, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Canadian environment minister Peter Kent said the listing demonstrates his government’s leadership in protecting the bears, but also acknowledged that the listing and subsequent plan will not result in prohibitions. The ultimate aim of the plan will be to alleviate human threats in order to remove the polar bear from the Species at Risk list.
“Canada is turning a blind eye to the deep trouble that polar bears are in,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, which successfully petitioned and sued to protect polar bears under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. “This designation is absurd in light of the science, ongoing population declines, and the increasingly frequent incidences of polar bears starving and drowning,” she said. “The bear clearly warrants listing as at least ‘threatened,’ and more likely, ‘endangered.’ Canada needs to acknowledge the scale of the climate crisis and the fact that we need deep and rapid greenhouse pollution reductions to protect both polar bears and people.”
The Canadian government has been dragging its feet over the politically charged listing decision, which — according to the Center For Biological Diversity — includes illegal delays and ignores the well-documented impacts climate change will have on the gravely-imperiled bear and its vanishing sea-ice habitat.
Canada’s listing also conflicts with the 2008 decision by the United States to list the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and the Polar Bear Specialist Group’s 2005 decision to list the polar bear as “vulnerable” due to projected declines from climate change.
Unlike an “endangered” or “threatened” listing, which would prohibit some hunting, killing and harm and would establish “critical habitat” for the bear, the “species of special concern” listing requires only a management plan in three years, with no guarantee for actual protections.
Canada’s special concern listing for the polar bear was based on a status assessment that failed to address the primary threat to the species, the ongoing and projected loss of its sea-ice habitat in the face of global warming.
“Polar bears in Canada can be saved from extinction but only if the enormous threats they face are taken seriously,” Siegel said. “Wishful thinking is not a successful management strategy.”