Nunavut wildlife board revisits Kivalliq polar bear quota
Survey numbers from 2016 show population decline
The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is revisiting last fall’s surprise decision to raise harvesting quotas for polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay sub-population, inviting participants in favor and against the decision to a public hearing that was to have been held this week in Rankin Inlet.
The scheduled Jan. 9 to Jan. 10 meetings fulfill the second motion in a two-part resolution passed by the NWMB last September, which temporarily increased the total allowable harvest of Western Hudson Bay polar bears from 28 to 34 animals for the remainder of the 2017-18 hunting season, but promised further review.
Now, Inuit organizations and government agencies will have a second chance to weigh in on a future quota, which will likely be implemented in the upcoming 2018-19 season—beginning July 1.
But those agencies appear split on their recommendations for a future quota, according to documents already submitted by each group to the NWMB website.
“Polar bear encounters with humans have increased significantly, especially near Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet and Whale Cove,” said the Kivalliq Wildlife Board in a Nov. 24 written submission.
Kivalliq hunters are calling for a further increase to 45 polar bears per year, with 40 tags allocated to Kivalliq communities and five tags given to Manitoba, which shares the polar bear subpopulation.
“Public safety and protection of property is a major concern for people in the Kivalliq,” the Kivalliq board said, adding there were 380 sightings of polar bears within Arviat in 2017, according to statistics provided by Nunavut’s Environment Department.
In its own recommendation, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. supports the NWMB’s quota increase to 34 polar bears, saying the modification took into account the perspectives of Inuit “who have been advocating for an increase on the grounds of both conservation and public safety.”
On the other hand, the Government of Nunavut is staying put with its own quota recommendation of 28 polar bears, which was overturned by the NWMB last fall at an earlier meeting.
That recommendation was based on an aerial survey conducted by Nunavut scientists in 2016, which estimated about 842 polars bears in the subpopulation using a mathematical equation, down from 1030 estimated bears in 2011.
That survey also cited evidence of lower reproductive performance among the subpopulation and decline in body conditions. It also said changing sea ice levels could be affecting the population.
But the territory admitted it doesn’t have sufficient evidence to make a judgment on the subpopulation’s overall health, and therefore would continue to classify it as “relatively stable.”
In a Nov. 23 letter, Environment and Climate Change Canada supported the recommendation by Nunavut’s government, but also recommended enhancing deterrent infrastructure, such as bear monitoring programs, electric fences and steel bins for communities.
“It is the weight of evidence that warrants a precautionary approach be taken when setting harvest levels,” Environment and Climate Change Canada deputy ministers Sue Milburn-Hopwood and George Enei said in a letter.
The NWMB’s surprise recommendation to increase the Western Hudson Bay polar bear quota came after an impassioned speech by the Kivalliq Wildlife Board president, Stanley Adjuk, in Iqaluit last year.
Adjuk argued that the territory’s recommendation for a 28-polar bear quota was detached from the realities faced by Kivalliq residents.
“Our kids, our grandkids, we’ve got to watch them, every single night now,” Adjuk said this past Sept. 11 at an NWMB board meeting.
Following that meeting, Arviat South MLA, Joe Savikataaq, then the Nunavut environment minister, quietly approved the NWMB’s resolution, increasing the quota to 34 polar bears for the reminder of the 2017-18 hunting season.
Any recommendation reached by the NWMB following its Rankin Inlet consultations will have to be ratified by Nunavut’s current environment minister, Elisapee Sheutiapik.