New GN polar bear management plan coming by fall 2014

Arviat MLA takes issue with reference to Species at Risk Act


The Government of Nunavut will deliver a “made in Nunavut” polar bear management plan by the fall of 2014.

That’s the message Nunavut’s environment minister Johnny Mike conveyed in a minister’s statement March 11 at the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board still has to sign off on the plan after the GN finishes it.

Mike said the plan is a “high priority” for the department.

“It will address issues of public safety, economic development, and maintaining sustainable polar bear populations,” Mike said.

The plan also takes into consideration Canada’s National Polar Bear Conservation Strategy, Mike said. It’s also aligned with a future National Management Plan for Polar Bears under the Species at Risk Act.

That didn’t sit well with Arviat South MLA Joe Savikataaq who wondered about the implications of the Species at Risk Act for Nunavut.

“We have seen that polar bears are a big issue, yes, and people outside of Nunavut want to control it,” Savikataaq said March 11 in the assembly.

“They want to control the direction of our harvest. Or the quantity of our harvest. And they have means to influence our decisions,” he said. “The plan has to respect the wishes of Nunavummiut that have an abundance of polar bears knocking at their doorstep.”

Mike agreed with Savikataaq.

“We aren’t stating that polar bears will be placed as a species at risk, however, after our polar bear management system has been reviewed, it will be easier to bridge the old system with the new system,” Mike said.

“The reason is that polar bears are an iconic species being heavily scrutinized by animal rights groups in the southern locales, and there are still many misinformed zealots who want to place the polar bear into the threatened category.”

A draft of the polar bear management plan says Inuit have seen polar bear populations increase “significantly since the 1960s.”

“Even the listing of polar bears as a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act is at odds with the Inuit perspective, and despite the listing Inuit do not believe that there is a serious conservation concern,” reads the draft management plan.

The federal and territorial governments were forced to create polar bear management plans by the end of 2014 as a result of the animal being labelled a species of “special concern” in 2011 by COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

That status recognizes that some polar bear groups are faring better than others.

“In the past, some Canadian subpopulations have been over-hunted because population abundance was overestimated and overly high quotas were set as a consequence,” a profile of polar bears on the COSEWIC website says.

“Harvesting without quotas in subpopulations entirely or partly within Canadian territory is a threat to the conservation of polar bears.”

A lack of food, the earlier break-up of sea ice, and development projects are also a threat to the polar bear, the website says.

Consultations for the Nunavut management plan, which started in February, will continue in the spring, Mike said.

In light of these consultations, Nunavummiut will “play a central role” in the management plan’s development, Mike said, adding that the needs and preferences of harvesters will be met.

The tentative schedule for north and south Baffin consultations, according to the GN’s department of environment website, is as follows:

• Pangnirtung: March 12 and March 13;

• Cape Dorset: March 14 and March 15;

• Sanikiluaq: March 16 and March 17;

• Kimmirut: March 18 and March 19;

• Iqaluit: March 20 and March 21;

• Grise Fiord: March 26 and March 27;

• Resolute: March 28 and March 29;

• Arctic Bay: March 30 and March 31;

• Pond Inlet: April 1 and April 2;

• Clyde River: April 3 and April 4;

• Igloolik: April 5 and April 6; and,

• Hall Beach: April 7 and 8.

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