Northbound grizzly bears begin to colonize western Nunavut
Big brown mammals found denning on Victoria Island
While polar bears continue to present a constant threat to communities in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region, grizzly bears are now becoming more of a nuisance too.
That’s one of the issues raised at the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Management Board’s annual general meeting, held this past week in Cambridge Bay.
“It’s coming from different communities. The increase of wolves and grizzly bears coming into the communities, and more frequently in Cambridge Bay,” said James Panioyak, vice-chairman of the KRWMB and president of the Ekaluktutiak Hunter’s and Trapper’s Organization.
“Gjoa Haven also expressed that concern and Kugluktuk as well. It’s more of a concern now because here in Cambridge Bay we had grizzly bears come right into the community,” Panioyak said.
Last August a grizzly bear attracted attention when it tried to swim to Cambridge Bay.
“Someone thought it was marine wildlife, but in fact it was a grizzly bear swimming across the bay [to] approach the community,” Panioyak said.
“A couple of hunters took it out of safety concerns, redirected it. Got it across the bay knowing they had to put it down because it had come to the community and more likely it will come back.”
These sightings are becoming more common over the past five years on Victoria Island, Panioyak said.
The bears are denning on the island, he says, which means, “it’s becoming their territory, where it breeds as well.”
And this has affected caribou and muskox populations, said the manager of the Gjoa Haven Hunters and Trappers Organization, Willy Aglukkaq.
“According to Inuit testimony, that’s what’s happening. We have a lot of Inuit hunters that are out on caribou hunts. It used to be rare that people would shoot grizzly bears. Now it’s just a common occurrence,” Aglukkaq said.
Aglukkaq said that about five documented kills have occurred this year.
But the main concern is over grizzly bears getting into communities, and now people feel threatened when going out on the land, he said.
Panioyak said the KWMB is in the process of making a submission to Nunavut’s Department of Environment.
Aglukkaq said grizzly bears were rare in Gjoa Haven a decade ago — but not now.
“I’ve done aerial surveys in the past. We’ve counted up to eight grizzly bears running around by our cabin grounds,” Aglukkaq said.
Although two polar bears wandered into Gjoa Haven last year, the closest grizzly that has come near the hamlet this year has been 10 miles away, he said.
Gjoa Haven does not have any strict regulations for hunting grizzly bears, Aglukkaq said, but he is worried that stricter regulation may come, such as those now in place in the Northwest Territories.
“We’re concerned about our caribou populations, because in the NWT, all their regulations [are] put into place. We just don’t want that to happen here,” Aglukkaq said.
A 2012 Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife report estimated there are 1,500 to 2,000 grizzly bears in Nunavut.
The report said the grizzly population in Nunavut, the NWT and Northern Manitoba, is “expanding.”
That estimate is up from a 2009 COSEWIC assessment that said there were 800 grizzlies in the Kitikmeot and 200 in the Kivalliq region.
Beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement do not need a license or permit to hunt grizzly bears, unless an HTO has imposed a restriction on harvest.
But “undocumented killing remains an important problem for managers,” the report said.
The COSEWIC has assessed the grizzly bear as a species of “special concern.”
But their general status has not been assessed by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, said the 2012 report.
Aglukkaq and Panioyak also said the wolf population is “booming” and is another big issue in the Western Arctic.
“There was a pack of wolves spotted about seven miles outside the community. And there was like 30 to 35 wolves,” Aglukkaq said, adding that he would never see that many wolves in the area a decade ago.