New Nunavut survey shows “abundant and healthy” polar bear population in western Hudson Bay: NTI

Previous population estimates were the result “faulty predictions,” says Inuit org


The Government of Nunavut survey shows polar bears in western Hudson Bay are more numerous than some forecasts predicted. (FILE PHOTO)

The Government of Nunavut survey shows polar bears in western Hudson Bay are more numerous than some forecasts predicted. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says that the results of a new survey of polar bears along western Hudson Bay show an “abundant and healthy” population, disparaging the previous work of federal government researchers.

In an April 3 release, NTI called the results of the new aerial survey by the Government of Nunavut’s department of environment “excellent news,” which prove that the polar bears’ numbers are not in decline.

“We have reported for many years that we are seeing more and more bears on the land and in communities, which raises public safety concerns,” said NTI vice-president James Eetoolook. “Inuit were told by scientists the reason there are more bears in communities is due to a decline in the condition of the population, but Inuit disagreed with this interpretation.”

Most polar bear biologists have said the western Hudson Bay polar bear population is in decline due to climate change and reduced ice cover. The Canadian Wildlife Service reported that polar bears in the area were more skinny, less healthy, and were having more problems reproducing.

But the GN’s 2010-2011 aerial survey results, made public earlier this month, estimate the western Hudson Bay’s polar bears numbers at 1,013.

These results contradict predictions from a survey conducted by Environment Canada in 2004, which collected data through mark-recapture surveys near Churchill, Manitoba, NTI said.

That survey determined that the polar population had dropped to 935, predicting that the population would continue to decline to 610 by 2011 due to an early spring break up and later fall freeze-up.

NTI called those numbers “faulty predictions,” which have hurt Inuit harvesting.

Wildlife management in Nunavut must take into account Inuit traditional knowledge, Eetoolook said.

And quota numbers shouldn’t be influenced by worry over climate change and its impact on polar bears, he said.

“This is not about climate change,” he said. “This is about how polar bears were used to draw attention to climate change. Changes were not made to reduce the causes or impact of climate change, but changes were made to the harvesting quotas.”

After cutbacks to the western Hudson Bay polar bear quota in recent years, Nunavut decided last October to increase its quota to 42 for the 2011-2012 season — before the survey results were in.

The GN’s department of environment recommended the increase, noting a recovery of the polar bear population in the Kivalliq in recent years.

Of the 42, four polar bears were expected to be harvested by hunters in Churchill as part of their polar bear deterrent program.

That left 38 for Nunavut.

But 17 of those polar bears were used to compensate for over-hunting during previous years, leaving a quota of 21 bears for Hudson Bay communities this season.

Results from the latest aerial survey will be taken to western Hudson Bay communities for consultation this winter, the GN said.

The GN then plans to work with its wildlife co-management partners on a long-term quota for the western Hudson Bay polar bear population.

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