The polar bear - the world's largest land carnivore and the animal that has come to symbolize the Far North - has been placed on Canada's list of species of special concern.
Although they are abundant in many parts of their traditional habitat, four of 13 designated polar bear populations have dwindled as the sea ice that is their hunting ground has melted. In some areas, they have been over-hunted.
"By posting them now as a species of concern, we can intensify our focus on the real research on where the population is doing well, where the population might not be doing as well, and where illegal hunting has actually negatively impacted the population," said Environment Minister Peter Kent, who made the decision on the recommendation of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife.
"It is an iconic species," said Mr. Kent. "We want to make sure that the population is sustainable, that there will be a population to be appropriately hunted under the current regulations."
Special concern status is the least critical level of Canada's Species at Risk list. It is an omnibus category for species that are not threatened or endangered, but could become so if the factors threatening them are not reversed.
The federal government conducted extensive consultations with people in the North between November, 2008, and March, 2010, and heard that the majority of communities were not in favour of the listing. Many feared the designation would affect their traditional hunting rights.
But, in the Western Arctic, one of the places where the bears appear to be most threatened, the Inuvialuit who were consulted gave unanimous support to designation.
Peter Ewins, senior Arctic species officer with World Wildlife Fund Canada, welcomed the government's decision, but pointed out that the main threat to the bears is climate change and the loss of Arctic sea ice.
The designation may raise awareness, Mr. Ewins said, but the management plan that must be developed for the bears "is not going to make any measureable, concrete difference to the rate at which Canada or the rest of the world addresses unprecedented rapid climate change and runaway greenhouse gas emissions."