KANGERLUUSUAQ, Greenland, October 30, 2009 (ENS) – A polar bear conservation and management agreement between Greenland, Canada and Nunavut was signed today at Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The pact caps months of work by all three parties to protect bears in hunting areas shared by the Canadian territory of Nunavut and Greenland, including Baffin Bay and Kane Basin.

Canada is inhabited by 15,500 of the estimated 25,000 polar bears in global polar regions. Of the 13 polar bear subpopulations in Canada, those in the Kane Basin and Baffin Bay are shared exclusively between Nunavut and Greenland.

Canada’s Environment Minister Jim Prentice; Nunavut’s Minister of the Environment Daniel Shewchuk; and Greenland’s Minister of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture Ane Hansen put their names to the Memorandum of Understanding aimed at ensuring the protection of these shared polar bear populations.

The MOU proposes the creation of a Canada-Greenland joint commission that would recommend a combined total allowable harvest, and a fair division of the shared harvest.

The joint commission also would be used to coordinate science, traditional knowledge, management and outreach activities.

Environment Minister Prentice said, “The Government of Canada is committed to working collaboratively to protect one of Canada’s true natural, and national, symbols.”

Prentice called the polar bear “an iconic animal, whose rare and rugged beauty stands as a stark reminder that Canada is one of the world’s true Nordic nations.”

Earlier this year, Prentice hosted a National Roundtable on polar bears with the territories, the provinces, wildlife management boards and others who have a polar bear management and conservation role. At the meeting, the need to form an agreement on managing shared polar bear subpopulations was identified as a high priority.

“The Memorandum of Understanding will help ensure conservation and sustainable management of Kane Basin and Baffin Bay polar bear populations into the future,” Prentice said today.

“Conservation and sustainable management of polar bears is very important for Greenland, for cultural, social and economic reasons,” said Hansen. “That is why I am so proud to be part of the signing of the first MOU on polar bears between Greenland, Canada and Nunavut.”

“We find it important that co-management agreements are developed between nations sharing polar bear population to ensure that combined harvests does not exceed sustainable levels,” Hansen said. “It is also important that traditional knowledge is used together with science in this process.”

“With this MOU we open the door for further collaboration on key priorities for polar bear management,” said Environment Minister Shewchuk of Nunavut, a largely aboriginal territory.

“Coordinating our efforts with respect to research methodologies and the exchange of multiple sources of knowledge will help us make the wisest possible management decisions for our polar bear populations,” Shewchuck said. “We look forward to exploring the many ways this joint commission can work toward our shared vision for polar bear conservation.”

Greenland has cut its polar bear hunting quota in Baffin Bay to 68 bears a year, and Nunavut officials are under pressure to adopt a similar quota.

Presently, Nunavut hunters can take up to 105 polar bears in Baffin Bay, but the territorial government wants to reduce the quota to 64 or impose a moratorium on polar bear hunting in the area.

Yet, Inuit hunters have said the Baffin Bay polar bear population is increasing and there is no need to cut the quota.

At a Nunavut Wildlife Management Board public meeting in the Nunavut capital of Iqualuit in September, hunters threatened to completely ignore quotas if they see any cut to their quota of 105, which split among three communities.

Today’s MOU is intended to facilitate joint decisions on the number of animals that can be taken.

Canadian polar bear populations are managed by the provinces, territories and wildlife management boards where the populations live.

In 2008, polar bears were re-assessed as a single Canadian population by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada, which identified them as a species of Special Concern.

Consultations are now underway concerning listing the polar bear as a species of Special Concern under the federal Species At Risk Act.

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