Boost price for polar bear hunt, researcher urges

Southern sportsmen don’t pay enough, academic says



Nunavut’s polar bear hunt is a multi-million dollar industry, but most of the spoils never reach Inuit hands, and when they do, those earnings vary substantially from community to community, a recent study suggests.

Dr. George Wenzel from McGill University examined the economic impact of the polar bear sport hunt for several years, beginning in 2001. The study focused on three communities: Resolute Bay, Clyde River and Taloyoak.

He followed the trail of money that began with southern agencies who are paid to funnel foreign hunters into communities, up to local outfitters and finally to the pockets of individual Inuit guides.

It became clear that not everyone gets the same cut.

Visiting hunters spend about $2.9 million each year on the polar bear sports hunt in Nunavut, Wenzel estimates. From that, Inuit receive $1.5 million, barely half.

During an interview, Wenzel suggested Inuit could boost their share of the hunt by charging southern hunters more. He points out that trophy hunters have been known to shell out as much as $400,000 US to hunt a bighorn sheep in Alberta.

“If you can sell a sheep for that much, I’m sure you could sell a polar bear for more money than is coming in,” he said.

Charging more money could also mean fewer sports tags are needed, lessening the concerns of conservationists who fear that polar bear populations are dwindling. Wenzel said there’s a perception that if a tag isn’t used, it will be given away.

But by publicly announcing that some tags will go unused, “you really retain that right.”

Besides the difference in earnings between southern agencies and Nunavut outfitters, there are also major differences from community to community.

In 2000, a southern hunter would have paid a southern agency $34,500 to hunt a polar bear in Taloyoak, compared with $30,000 to hunt in Clyde River.

Despite this, outfitters in more-pricey Taloyoak were paid $13,000, compared to $18,400 earned by their Clyde River competitors. That’s a 30 per cent difference.

And that difference grows when the shifting value of country food is taken into account. Residents of Clyde River consider polar bear meat fit for humans to eat, while in Taloyoak, it’s mostly fed to dogs. So while 2,000 kilograms of meat has a replacement value of $10,000 in Taloyoak, its worth bumps up to $17,000 in Clyde River.

There’s another twist. Despite a 30 per cent difference in the prices paid to local outfitters in the two communities, the wages paid to individual guides and helpers in both places were similar.

That’s because in Taloyoak, the HTO only kept a small profit for itself when it ran the sport hunt, while in Clyde River, outfitting was treated as a private business, and owners pocketed a larger share.

Resolute Bay’s sports hunt in 2000 stands out as the largest, and most lucrative, of the three communities. With 20 tags set aside for sport hunting, it rivaled the total amount of tags set aside from the other two communities combined, with 10 each.

A southern hunter visiting Resolute would have paid $34,500, but a larger amount of that money, $19,000, would end up in the hands of a single, privately-run outfitting business.

Guides and helpers were paid double the amount given to their counterparts in the other two communities. But as in Clyde River, the outfitter kept significantly more for himself.

Wenzel ends his paper by asking what would happen if all of Nunavut’s polar bear tags were sold to southern sports hunters. Currently, about one-quarter of the legal polar bear harvest goes toward sport hunting. Even at the current price of about $35,000 per bear, putting all the tags up for sale “would inject as much as $14 million into Nunavut’s cash-poor communities.”

But the cultural value of the polar bear still outweighs money for many. In Clyde River prior to the establishment of the sports hunt, Wenzel writes that some residents feared that bear population counts and hunting quotas “would make polar bears think that hunters were bragging about their own prowess and were being disrespectful to nanuq.”

Such human behavior would cause the animals to move to areas where humans would be “respectful.” Agreement on allowing outside hunters in only happened after much discussion.

Wenzel is an anthropology professor who has spent 27 years studying Inuit society. His findings were published in an academic journal this year.

The Government of Nunavut began funding his study, but lost enthusiasm following the total ban on polar bear hunting in M’Clintock Channel. Funding from the Safari Club continued the project.

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