February 2, 2001

Total bear hunting ban in M’Clintock looks unavoidable

A Nunavut government ban on polar bear hunting in M’Clintock Channel will likely begin next year, while a U.S. ban on polar bear trophies could last 10 years.

Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — If hunters in the Kitikmeot region still hope that they’ll be back out hunting polar bears in the M’Clintock Channel soon, they’re probably dreaming in technicolour.

That’s because an impending U.S. ban on the sports hunt there could last up to 10 years.

Nunavut’s own moratorium on the polar bear hunt won’t take effect until 2002, and could be theoretically lifted within a couple of years.

But there’s little hope that the U.S. decision to ban the importation of polar bear trophies from the M’Clintock Channel will change any time in the near future.

The "interim emergency rule" announced Jan. 5 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped the issuance of any more permits for sports-hunted polar bear trophies from the M’Clintock Channel into the U.S. for any bears hunted after May 31, 2000.

"Even with no harvest, the recovery of the population will be slow," reads the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Maggie Tieger, a spokesperson for the wildlife service, said there’s "nothing promising" in any information her agency has received from Canadian authorities.

"It will stand," Tieger said. "Of the 13 [polar bear] populations Canada has, we’re already approved six of them. This is the first time we’re had to change the decision."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has a 60-day waiting period before making its decision official and binding. During this period, it can receive comments and consider whether its decision should be changed.

But Tieger said only new, more encouraging information will eventually lead to a reissuance of permits for trophies from the M’Clintock Channel.

Meanwhile, she said, more research needs to be done.

"The question is: what is the habitat capable of carrying? What is really causing this decrease?" Tieger said.

The information the U.S. officials received from the Canadian Wildlife Service said there are only about 288 polar bears in the M’Clintock Channel population, rather than 700, as earlier estimated.

This research indicated that without a reduction in the hunt, the population could decline and be reduced to zero within 10 years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines whether a hunt has scientifically sound quotas that sustain the polar bear population.

Due to the low estimates for the M’Clintock Channel polar bear population, it decided not to condone any more hunting there, by clamping down on import permits.

"Once it closes, we have to evaluate it. I can’t tell when if ever they’ll be able to bring back hunting," Tieger said.