Red tape hampers response to increased polar bear encounters: Nunavut MLAs
“They want to go back to unlimited harvesting”
Nunavut MLAs say they’re frustrated with the red tape involved in dealing with an increase in polar bear encounters across the territory—two of which proved fatal this past summer.
And that’s motivated a number of illegal polar bear killings in recent months, they say.
Communities, especially those in the Kivalliq region, have been on edge since the death of two hunters in two different attacks this year.
Nunavummiut said polar bears had been a growing threat in and around both those communities.
Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, said her constituents are frustrated, scared and tired of waiting for wildlife authorities to respond by adjusting harvest quotas.
“I believe that the security of life is more important when Inuit are saying that the polar bear population has increased,” Towtongie told the legislature on Oct. 24.
“A lot of hunters have come to me saying that they will kill without a quota. They will just kill. It has happened in Arviat, and I was informed in Naujaat some hunters have killed [bears], left the meat, and just took the skin,” she said.
“There’s almost a feeling of civil disobedience with the individuals who have approached me.”
Many Kivalliq Inuit have said the recent attacks could have been avoided if Nunavut wildlife authorities acknowledged and addressed an increase in polar bears around the region.
Earlier this year, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board decided to increase the total allowable harvests for several subpopulations of polar bears: Western Hudson Bay is now 38, Foxe Basin is 14 and the Gulf of Boothia is five.
But this past summer alone, residents of Coral Harbour reported that six polar bears had to be destroyed after threatening the safety of community members.
The concern extends to Baffin Island communities, where one MLA said polar bear visits have become a regular occurrence around Clyde River.
“We live on the ocean and we have very many polar bears,” Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak told the legislature on Oct. 25.
“This is a major concern of our constituents … [who] no longer want legislation,” he said. “They want to go back to unlimited harvesting.”
Environment Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said the department shares those communities’ concerns.
“If a community member feels that their life is in danger or their equipment is in danger, they have the right to destroy the bear,” she said in response.
The NWMB has the responsibility to come up with total allowable harvests and make recommendations to the government, though Ehaloak said she’s received no word on whether those quotas could change in light of the recent attacks.
“They will be holding a meeting here in Iqaluit in November to go over those issues and concerns and at that time they will decide whether or not the total allowable harvest of polar bears will be increased or not,” she said.
Ehaloak also pointed to programs available to Nunavut to help people protect themselves and their personal property against polar bear encounters.
The Wildlife Damage Prevention program offers a total fund of $60,000 that Nunavummiut can apply for to buy deterrents like electric fencing, bear-resistant storage units and cabin reinforcements.
This past year, the program approved 10 applications and a total of $42,000, she said.
The department is also developing a polar bear safety and deterrence training course, which will eventually be implemented across the territory, Ehaloak said.