Spurred by climate change concerns, wildlife board reverses itself to limit hunt

Nunavut cuts bear quota shoot for western Hudson Bay


Hunters may only shoot two-thirds as many polar bears in western Hudson Bay, following a recommendation made by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to lower the area's bear quota from 56 to 38, which was approved by Patterk Netser, Nunavut's minister of the environment, in late August.

And unless new evidence is found that there are more polar bears in the area, the total allowable harvest will plummet to just eight polar bears next hunting season, which begins July 2008.

The dramatic decrease comes less than three years after Nunavut boosted the bear quota for the area, from 47 to 56, at the request of hunters who claimed there were far more bears in the area than the number recorded by federal researchers.

Nunavut researchers looked for the missing bears this summer. They found some, says Mitch Taylor, Nunavut's director of wildlife research, but not nearly as many as hunters hoped. And not enough to justify the number of bears currently being shot.

Most polar bear biologists believe that the western Hudson Bay population is in decline due to climate change. There is less ice, which bears depend on to catch seals. The Canadian Wildlife Service has reported bears in the area are more skinny, less healthy, and are having more problems reproducing.

In fact, this information was being revealed at the same time Nunavut substantially increased the number of bears to be hunted in western Hudson Bay. At the time, Nunavut stood by its hunters.

But that's increasingly difficult now. Climate change has become an important political issue, and, with polar bears often used as a poster species for the cause, Nunavut finds itself under far closer scrutiny over its management of polar bears.

The U.S. is considering whether to ban the import of polar bear trophies caught by sport hunters. And some now believe polar bears may die out in most of the Arctic, including the western Hudson Bay, in the next 50 years, due to shrinking sea ice.

But Steve Pinksen, Nunavut's director of environmental policy, says the bears of western Hudson Bay could be in decline for many reasons, such as several years of bad weather, or a slump in the number of seals, which may not necessarily be connected to climate change.

"It's really complicated," he said.

"To say it is climate change, I think, is a bit too simple."

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