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Polar bear vulnerable

The Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) recently concluded that the IUCN Red List classification of the polar bear should be upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable.
The recommendation is based on a projected 30 percent decline in the polar bear population the next 35 to 50 years. The principal cause of this decline is climatic warming and its negative impact on the sea ice habitat of polar bears.

In some areas, contaminants may have an additional negative influence. High levels of PCBs and pesticides have been found in some polar bear populations.

The Group also called for stronger regulation and monitoring of harvest levels. Greenland will be regulating a quota system as of 2006. However, there is still no regulation on hunting in north-eastern Russia.

The Group has also concluded that increases in harvest levels or estimates of sub-population size should not be based solely on traditional ecological knowledge without support from sound scientific data. They also advise that quotas should be set according to the precautionary principle.

There are estimated to be about 20 to 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic. There has already been some decline in sub-populations. In Canada’s western Hudson Bay, for example, the polar bear population has fallen from 1200 to 1000. Scientists there are looking at possible links between climate change and the population size. The results of this work are expected later this year.

The PBSG is made up of polar bear specialists from Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States. The group meets every three to five years to review polar bear research that has taken place around the Arctic in recent years and review the worldwide status of polar bears.

Nigel Allan