Canada won’t be listing polar bears as “threatened” or “endangered” on the country’s endangered species list any time soon, according to an international trade panel.
Environmentalists have tried to use the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to get the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) to investigate into why Canada has not listed polar bears as threatened or endangered species.
CBC News reported last week that CEC voted 2 to 1 to reject a filing by the Center for Biological Diversity, which claimed Canada was not doing enough to protect its polar bear populations from global warming.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” Sarah Uhleman, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, told CBC News. “A political decision rejected an expert’s recommendation.”
CEC was established under NAFTA to ensure that free trade does not impede environmental regulations. The U.S., Canada and Mexico each have one vote on the commission — the U.S. was the only country to vote in favor of investigating Canada.
“It’s about Canada recognizing that climate change is a really big threat to the polar bear and to the Arctic itself,” Uhleman said. “Canada is not doing particularly well in fighting climate change.”
The polar bear became the first species to be listed as “threatened” in the U.S. due to the potential impacts global warming would have on the Arctic, such as melting sea ice.
But fears that polar bear populations are in danger from melting sea ice have been overblown. Official polar bear population estimates have been underestimated, according to zoologist Susan Crockford.
Crockford recently revealed that polar bear populations estimates from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) were “simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”
“Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000,” PBSG told Crockford. “It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”
“Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy,” PBSG said. “Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”
Crockford noted in her blog that official population estimates likely undercount the number of polar bears living in the Arctic region. She said, “it appears there are probably at least another 6,000 or so bears living in these regions and perhaps as many as 9,000 (or more) that are not included in any PBSG ‘global population estimate.’”
CEC told environmentalists that investigating Canada’s polar bear efforts would simply “republish information that was already public,” reports CBC News.
“Certain issues the (experts) deemed to be ‘central open questions’ are aimed at seeking details on protected government decision-making processes and cabinet deliberations, which is not permitted under … the agreement,” the CEC decision said.
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