SARC Re-assesses Polar Bear

Date: 
Wednesday, May 5, 2021

All Species at Risk Committee (SARC) members extend heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the biologist and flight crew who tragically died during a polar bear survey of Lancaster Sound, Nunavut on 26 April 2021. SARC acknowledges the inherent danger associated with the collection of knowledge that is essential to the assessment of wildlife species.

The Northwest Territories (NWT) Species at Risk Committee (SARC) met on 15-16 April 2021 to re-assess the status of polar bear in the NWT. The re-assessment was based on the approved status report which contained the best available information on polar bear from both Indigenous and Community Knowledge (ICK) and Scientific Knowledge (SK) sources.

Using both ICK and SK assessment criteria, SARC determined that polar bear is a species of Special Concern in the NWT.

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. Changes to the quality and quantity of polar bear habitat may negatively influence polar bear condition, reproduction and prey availability – these changes have been associated with declines in some polar bear subpopulations.

Other threats to polar bear include invasive research techniques, pollution, potential offshore development of hydrocarbon reserves, increased ship traffic, transportation and service corridors, increased pathogens, changes in foraging ecology and other cumulative effects.

SARC recommends the following:

  • Encourage and support ongoing ICK research to provide critical long term on-the-ground observations that will help understand annual changes and be useful for species assessment.
  • Continue to enhance on-the-ground community-based monitoring to systematically monitor and document change (consistent with the Inuvialuit Settlement Region Polar Bear Joint Management Plan).
  • Work with partners to develop and implement protocols for industry and shipping traffic through the Northwest Passage to minimize disturbance to polar bears.
  • Work with partners to effectively resource and implement tools to mitigate climate change impacts on polar bear and ensure that Canada and NWT uphold their international climate change agreements.
  • Work with partners to ensure that the Canadian offshore oil and gas moratorium is reviewed on schedule and that polar bear and seal continue to be protected from negative effects of oil and gas offshore development.
  • Complete and publish results of population surveys in a timely manner.
  • Enhance research on complex systems associated with climate change and how polar bear respond to changes to sea ice.

Details of the 2021 re-assessment and more information on polar bear can be found on the NWT Species at Risk website: www.nwtspeciesatrisk.ca.

SARC, established by the Species at Risk (NWT) Act, is an independent committee of experts responsible for assessing the biological status of species at risk in the NWT.

Quick Facts:

  • Polar bears were originally assessed by SARC in 2012 as a species of Special Concern.
  • This April 2021 re-assessment was the first time SARC applied the new Assessment Process and Objective Biological Criteria and the outcome was considered a success.

Details of the 2021 re-assessment and more information on polar bear can be found here: https://www.nwtspeciesatrisk.ca/SARC/completed-assessment.