Ensure the conservation of essential habitat for polar bears

Objective Leads

Lauren Schmuck (Environment and Climate Change Canada, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Nuka Møller Lund (Greenland Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Actions associated with Objective 3 in the 2020-2023 Implementation Plan

(see top-left sidebar for further information on the actions)

EH – A1: Define categories of essential polar bear habitat and then compile existing information to generate an inventory of essential habitat by the categories – Lead: Greenland (and the PBSG)

EH – A2:  Define levels of protective status of polar bear essential habitat (likely 3 categories) – Lead: Canada

EH - A7:  Develop messages about the importance of conserving essential habitat – Lead: Climate Change Communication Working Group.

Implementation approach

  • For EH-A1, the Polar Bear Specialist Group has agreed to lead on this work, in cooperation with Greenland. A draft report is expected to be produced in fall 2021.
  • For EH-A2, Canada will develop proposed definitions for conservation status levels and circulate it with at least 30 days’ notice prior to a HoD call intended to reach consensus on the definitions. This activity could be worked into the HoD schedule and can proceed on a parallel track to EH-A1.
  • For EH-A7, this task will be tackled by the Climate Change Communications working group. This is a subset of the overall messages that group is tasked with developing.

Polar Bear threats linked to the Objective and how the Objective’s Actions will address them: 

This objective is linked to the threat of climate change and the extent and composition of sea ice. These threats will impact polar bears by reducing the amount, quality and accessibility of essential habitat. This is expected to manifest in reduced access to quality prey and increased energetic costs to obtain food. This, in turn, is expected to reduce survival and result in reduced population sizes. 

Actions EH-A1 and EH-A2 will inventory and track the amount, quality and accessibility of essential habitat over time. Increased awareness of the condition of essential habitat should be factored into management decisions such as harvest management and incidental take regulation. Further, a solid understanding of how the distribution of essential habitat may be shifting over time allows us to design and implement conservation programs to ensure those habitats will be available for polar bears in the future. 

Action EH-A7 is designed to increase general awareness of the critical linkage between the condition of sea ice habitat and the conservation status of polar bears. While this may inform some of the management actions mentioned above, it is intended to also more broadly influence the larger societal decisions that address the largest threat to the persistence of polar bears – climate change. 

Levels of the Threats: High

Expected impact (outcome) of the Objective: 

By implementing a consistent and transparent circumpolar method for identifying and tracking the location and conservation status of essential polar bear habitat, the goal is to draw increased attention to essential polar bear habitat, thereby leading to improved conservation. Further, tracking the location and status of such habitat over time can facilitate conservation actions to protect habitat that is projected to become essential refugia in the future as polar bears adapt their movements to a rapidly changing environment. The goal is that with a better understanding of the connection between climate change and sea ice and the consequences for the persistence of polar bears, governments, industry and members of the public will take the necessary action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

How the progress toward the Objective will be evaluated

  • Common agreed categories/definitions for essential habitat (e.g. feeding, mating, denning, migration corridors, terrestrial refugia). That is, a clear definition and agreement on what ‘critical/essential habitat’ means within the context of the Circumpolar Action Plan.
  • Common agreed categories of conservation status of essential habitat.
  • Inventory of the availability of essential habitat (baseline and every X years). That is, identification of where both protected and unprotected essential/critical habitat currently exists.
  • For each subpopulation, identify which pieces of essential habitat are not present either because they are not yet identified, or are identified but not yet protected.
  • Inventory of the conservation status of essential habitat (baseline and every X years).
  • Polar bear habitat is considered in discussions on greenhouse gas emission management.

Performance Metrics

  • Changes in the amount of essential habitat in each category (e.g. feeding, mating, denning, migration corridors, terrestrial refugia).
  • Changes in the amount of essential habitat in each conservation status category.

Baseline of Performance Metrics

Baseline needs to be established. Baseline could be the identification of where both protected and unprotected essential habitat currently exists.

Liaison with external bodies

(i.e. organizations, communities, stakeholders, expert groups, etc.)

In October 2020, the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) responded to earlier correspondence from the Polar Bear Range States (PBRS), and indicated that the PBSG would assist the PBRS with the implementation of Objective 3. The PBSG committed to providing an inventory of existing information relating to essential habitat and categories therein. It is anticipated that the document inventorying existing information on essential habitat will be delivered to the PBRS in Fall 2021.

Expected dissemination of Deliverables and Outcome to stakeholders 

(public, policy makers, legislators etc.)

The initial inventory, the updates and a final map product should be posted on the Polar Bear Range States (PBRS) website and part of a status report prepared by the PBRS for dissemination. 

Potential Challenges and how they will be addressed (mitigation actions)[1]

It is possible that the initial inventory of essential habitat may have significant gaps such that it will not be possible to provide a comprehensive circumpolar assessment of essential polar bear habitat.  Also, it may be that regular assessments of essential habitat are not conducted such that is it not possible to provide a comprehensive and meaningful tracking of changes in habitat over time. 






















[1] The level of challenge is estimated by multiplying the level of likelihood (scale 1-5) by the negative impact it may have (scale 1-5). Minor: 1-10, Moderate: 11-15; Severe: 16-25.