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Nunavut rethinks polar bear quotas as numbers drop

Last Updated: Thursday, June 9, 2005 | 3:12 PM ET

Government biologists in Nunavut have flip-flopped on polar bear quotas for this year, reversing a January recommendation supported by native leaders to increase the hunt by 28 per cent.

The biologists are now recommending that quotas be cut by almost half in the western Hudson Bay region, and that the quota in Baffin Bay and Foxe Basin be restored to 2004 levels.

The quota increases announced for Davis Strait would remain until a three-year study is completed.

The January decision increased the hunt quota to more than 500 bears, angering the international scientific community and environmentalists, but winning praise from hunters and Inuit organizations.

Nunavut polar bear biologist Mitch Taylor acknowledged the turnaround puts the territory's credibility in managing polar bears at risk. But he said the government would not make a final decision on polar bear quotas without first consulting the communities.

"The approach is to consult with the communities about the new information and about what to do about it," he said.

The acting chair of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in Iqaluit agreed with Taylor that there's a sharp difference between what Inuit hunters are seeing and results from scientific studies.

"We need more information on why they feel that a decrease is needed," Harry Flaherty said.

"So we're going to have to revisit this area and do our community consultation at the same time, but I'm sure it's not going to be a very positive reaction we're going to hear from the communities."

Greenland hunters said to threaten bear population

Taylor surprised the board by saying new information had changed the government's thinking on bear numbers.

He said hunters in Greenland are overhunting the bears, which is threatening the Baffin Bay population.

Taylor also said scientific studies show the number of bears in western Hudson Bay has dropped from about 1,200 to about 1,000 and seems to be related to climate.

"We also had new information from Greenland on their harvest rates indicating that the five-year average had gone up by about 60 to 130, and in some years they're actually killing as many as 200."

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Taylor said there needs to be co-management agreements put in place with Manitoba and Quebec.

And Flaherty said Canada needs to take action to get regions such as Greenland to control their hunts.

Meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has formally asked Nunavut to clarify its polar bear management policies.

The American government will use the information to determine if sport hunters can continue to bring polar bear trophies back into that country.

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