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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The western Canadian province of Manitoba named the polar bear a threatened species on Thursday, enabling it to restrict new development on its Arctic shoreline, where hundreds of the big white bears spend several weeks each year.
"We must continue to take action to protect one of our province's most unique species, which is clearly being affected by climate change," Stan Struthers, the province's conservation minister, said in a release.
Polar bears hunt seals on Hudson Bay, but move onto land around the northern Manitoba town of Churchill when the ice melts in the summer.
Late autumn can see nearly 1,000 of the animals in the region, waiting for the freeze-up, and tourists flock to the remote town, which calls itself the polar bear capital of the world.
Commercial and sport hunting of the bears has long been banned in Manitoba.
Climate change has melted the ice earlier and for a longer period, affecting bears' health and survival rates, the provincial government said.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated melting sea ice could eliminate two-thirds of the world's polar bears by 2050.
Scientists estimate that the world's polar bear population is around 25,000. Two-thirds of the animals live in Canada, almost all of them in the Arctic territory of Nunavut.
The United States government is weighing whether to declare the polar bear a threatened species, but Canadian Inuit leaders have said that could hurt their livelihood, which is supported by guiding U.S. sport hunters in the Arctic region.
The Canadian government has classified the polar bear as a "species of concern" but has not named it an endangered or threatened species.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Rob Wilson