The recent polar bear workshop organized by Canada and the U.S. was a positive step in thawing relationships among diverse organizations. Geoff York (second from left), PBI senior director of conservation, joined a panel at the Canadian Embassy

© Dr. Don Moore

6/23/2015 1:54:15 PM

Polar Bears on the Potomac

By Geoff York, Senior Director of Conservation 

Listening and learning. Sharing perspectives. Networking and engaging in constructive dialogue.

During three days in early June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted an unusual gathering of people at its National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Collectively, we traveled from near and far to participate in the first Canada-U.S. Polar Bear Stakeholder Forum. The gathering was unusual because most of the attendees work or live full time in the Arctic. Yet we converged at a remote facility on the Potomac River to discuss approaches and perceptions around polar bear conservation.

Together, we represented national, regional, and local governments, Inuit organizations, and a sampling of conservation organizations that ran the gamut from the Humane Society to Safari Club International.

The forum's goal was to encourage open conversation among participants who have not always seen eye to eye. The governments of Canada and the U.S. co-organized the event.

Canada and the U.S. share responsibility for managing polar bears across roughly half their range. While the two governments do not always agree on approaches to polar bear conservation, significant areas of agreement exist and both countries are taking actions to manage this iconic species. The hosts hoped that bringing partners together to vet a wide range of views about polar bear conservation would help to foster a collaborative, cooperative, and inclusive environment to promote constructive engagement going forward.

Our three-day meeting was highly productive. We spent time going over current research and management efforts in North America, including updates on population status, trends, and changes in sea ice habitat. But most of all, participants got to know one another on a personal level and left with new perspectives to take back to their own organizations. This will hopefully lead to communication with greater humility and respect for all who are working on long-term polar bear conservation.

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