Canada wants more study on polar bear protection

INUVIK, Northwest Territories (Reuters) - Canada, criticized by environmentalists for not adequately protecting polar bears from the effects of climate change, said on Thursday it will take more time study its next step.

A polar bear shakes at St-Felicien Wildlife Zoo in Quebec, March 6, 2008. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

A scientific panel on Thursday released detailed findings of an April review that classified the bear population as a “special concern,” but not endangered or threatened with extinction.

The government has created a national round table to consult with a variety of groups, including residents of the Arctic, on how best to protect the bears, Environment Minister John Baird said.

“Protecting the polar bears is something we are committed to, but we going to base it on science and with input and collaboration with Inuit and northern people,” Baird told reporters in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

Canada is home to about two-thirds of the world’s 25,000 polar bears.

The animal is the symbol of the country’s vast northern region, with the metal of Northwest Territories’ license plates even stamped in its silhouette.

The United States said in May it was listing polar bears as a threatened species. Baird said Canada was cooperating with U.S. officials on studying how best to protect the animals.

Some green groups say Canada falls short by not matching the U.S. declaration, which was prompted by fears that global warming was destroying the ice needed by the bears to survive.

But Canada’s Arctic Inuit people say the bear population is not in as much trouble as some fear, with the most serious problems more localized in nature, and they complain further restrictions on hunting will hurt their communities.

Designating the polar bears as threatened would require prohibitions like bans on hunting and destruction of habitat.

The U.S. Geological Survey said last September that two thirds of the world’s polar bears could be gone by mid-century if predictions of melting sea ice in the Arctic hold true.

Editing by Jeffrey Jones