Polar bears not Ottawa’s concern: Kakfwi

The territorial government and the board that manages wildlife in Nunavut want Ottawa to change new endangered species legislation to allow northerners to retain control over wildlife management.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

DWANE WILKIN

Northern wildlife officials say Canada’s first endangered-species legislation ignores decades of conservation efforts and may interfere with aboriginal treaty rights.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and the territorial government want stronger recognition of the role that aboriginal peoples and co-management authorities play in northern conservation.

Both have demanded changes to sections of Bill C-65 – a new piece of federal legislation – that would transfer responsibility for such northern animals as polar bears to the federal government.

“I don’t think anybody here has any problem with the endangered species legislation,” said NWMB director Dan Pike, “it’s just a matter of who can do the job better.”

Stephen Kakfwi, territorial minister of resources, wildlife an economic development, appeared last week before a federal standing committee on the environment to raise concerns about the Canada Endangered Species Protection Act.

Act conflicts with land claim agreement?

Kakfwi said the GNWT is concerned the bill as written may conflict with harvesting rights contained in land-claims agreements with Inuit, Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and Sahtu.

“The Act might create de facto ‘principles of conservation’ which would result in aboriginal people being denied access to their resources through the provisions of their own claims,” Kakfwi warned.

The wildlife management board pointed out in its own submission that the proposed legislation conflicts with provisions of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in the area of jurisdiction.

In particular, the agreement invests the NWMB with the authority to approve designation of rare, threatened and endangered species within the Nunavut Settlement Area.

“What we don’t want to see happening is for committees to bumble through and start doing things without getting the approval here,” said Pike.

Northerners must keep control

Both the territorial government and the wildlife management board want Ottawa to rewrite Section 3 of the Canada Endangered Species Protection Act to ensure that northerners retain primary legal responsibility for endangered, threatened and vulnerable species north of the 60th parallel.

They point out that northerners have a proud record of co-managed recovery plans, including one for polar bears, which has been in place since 1984 and has earned the GNWT international praise.

As it stands now, Ottawa will assume responsibility for species so designated in the Yukon and Northwest Territories once the bill is passed.

That means the Canadian Wildlife Service would automatically be handed the job of managing polar bears, wood bison, wolverine, Peary caribou and grizzlies – all currently classified as either “vulnerable, threatened, endangered or extirpated” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

One flaw, critics say, is that the federal wildlife service has no presence in the North outside Yellowknife.

“They don’t have anybody in Nunavut,” Pike said. “They have nobody working in these communities.”

On the other hand, the GNWT has spent the better part of thirty years building its own network of biologists and wildlife technicians in the North. Conservation officers currently work with native hunters and trappers associations in 38 NWT communities to monitor animal harvests collect population data.

The GNWT now has management agreements in place with 30 communities that hunt polar bears, for instance, a species Ottawa considers to be vulnerable.

“You take away all that from the Department here,” said NWMB executive director Jim Noble, “and how long is it going to take for you to re-establish that infrastructure?”

“That could mean an overharvest of the animals in the meantime.”

The system envisioned in Bill C-65 for managing and identifying species at risk, furthermore, minimizes the importance of combining traditional aboriginal knowledge with conventional science, the Board claims.

The NWMB would like more explicit guarantees that COSEWIC decisions will be informed by traditional knowledge as well as scientific expertise.

Must fit northern reality

In communities such as Hall Beach, where polar bears are so common this winter that they’re considered a public menace, residents will have little patience for inadequate southern regulations that ignore the reality of daily life.

In the legislative assembly this week, Kakfwi spoke for many northerners when he defended the GNWT’s system of species co-management.

“For some conservationists, bears are animals that they never see in their life but are concerned about, unlike ourselves who have animals, sometimes every day, wandering around our communities.

“There is a different perspective that we bring which makes it almost imperative that we do everything we can to make southern people, politicians, environmental groups, aware of the realities we face up here.”

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