April 7, 2006

NWMB picky about support for scientists

Rejection for certain methods, or work that could lead to quotas

JANE GEORGE

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board rejected many proposals for scientific studies of Nunavut's sea and land animals last week.

That's because members of the current board have a very clear idea of what kind of research they like and what kind of research they don't like.

Overall, the board favoured projects that:

The board had $1 million earmarked for research studies in 2006.

The board turned down many of the 26 requests for funding from the pot of money it receives annually to implement the land claim agreement.

This year, there was $792,000 to distribute from this fund, which is intended to give the NWMB a say in wildlife research in Nunavut.

The NWMB also kept nearly half of another research fund of about $250,000, rather than approve projects its members didn't like.

The board members present at last week's meeting - Pitseolak Alainga of Iqaluit, Makabe Nartok of Kugaaruk, Paul Pemik of Arviat, Joannie Ikkidluak of Kimmirut, Harry Flaherty of Iqaluit and Joe Tigulluaraq, the chair - consistently voted against proposals that don't have the support of the hunters and trappers organizations or didn't mention how they would create Inuit jobs or use Inuit knowledge.

The inclusion of Inuit knowledge in projects was seen as essential. A study on bearded seals was turned down because, as Joanni Ikkidluak said, "they want to know what I already know."

The board also was skeptical about projects benefiting graduate students, such as one involving students on kayaks who would study narwhal in Eclipse Sound near Pond Inlet. Inuit would serve as guides.

"Inuit knowledge is available," Makabe Nartok said. "The projects should be working closely with the HTOs. It seems as if they are just taking an opportunity."

The board members rejected a study of killer whales because it is based on monitoring and photographing whales from scientific vessels, such as the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen.

Although communities have told the NWMB that killer whales are a concern, Harry Flaherty said there is "nothing beneficial to the communities" in this project - and the other members agreed.

The board members turned down a study of polar bears in the western Hudson Bay population because, as Paul Pemik said, "I don't like the animals to be drugged."

The short-term impact of tranquilizing polar bears, which can't be eaten by humans for up to one year afterwards, and the long-term effect on the population, were offered as two solid reasons not to support this "catch and release" study.

One member suggested the repeated tranquilizing of polar bears has left the animals in the western Hudson Bay "drug addicts" and may be contributing to the population decline.

Board members also say they don't want to see any tranquilizers, markings or transmitters attached to narwhal or walrus, particularly in their haul-outs, as one study proposed.

Many board members were also suspicious of the motive of several studies, including those on polar bears in the western Hudson Bay, walrus or seals because, as several member said, "they just want to use this as a reason to put the animals on endangered species lists."

Board members said in the future they want to see proposals to the NWMB submitted in Inukitut and with photos and maps attached.

Many of the Department of Fisheries and Ocean's projects on polar bears, beluga and seals didn't pass - and their case wasn't helped by the fact that their voting seat on the NWMB has been vacant for six months.

Members said the DFO's repeated aerial counts of marine mammals are inaccurate because seals, in particular, can be hard to spot, often jump into the water when they hear noise, or can sometimes be mistaken for trash bags on the ice floes.

"They [the biologists] are in the wrong time and they have no contact with the right people," Pemik said about past aerial seal counting efforts.

Many of the Government of Nunavut's projects passed as Mitch Taylor, director of wildlife, was able to explain the benefits of the projects in person, drawing a map of how aerial surveys work and detailing how the GN's projects supported Inuit knowledge.

Taylor later said that receiving money from the NWMB is key to his cash-strapped department performing nearly any research project

Even proposals that were highly ranked by NWMB staff were not approved, because members fear that their results may be used to set quotas.

One study proposed developing a way to quantify Inuit knowledge, but it was turned down by the board, despite recommendations from NWMB staff that this study could help meet a need outlined by an international team of polar bear experts.

The projects accepted include research studies on: Common and Pacific eiders, Peary caribou, polar bears in the Davis Strait, Arctic and red foxes;, mainland caribou, Dolphin and Union caribou;, turbot and shrimp stocks, vegetation mapping in the Kivalliq, wolverine and grizzly bear carcass evaluation, and bowhead whale stocks.

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