Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 15, 2012 - 7:35 am

Western Nunavut hunters ponder big changes in wildlife

Quotas can’t keep up with new marine mammals, increased bear populations

JANE GEORGE
The Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Management Board listens to troubling new information about changes in the region's wildlife. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
The Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Management Board listens to troubling new information about changes in the region's wildlife. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

CAMBRIDGE BAY — If hunters on Victoria island in western Nunavut find dead muskox while they’re out on the land, they should be careful: these dead animals could be infected with a disease that’s worked its way up from the mainland.

Called Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, this bacterial infection recently killed at least 100 muskox on Banks Island in the Northwest Territories.

The bacteria is usually found in livestock, such as pigs or turkeys.

In people, contact with the bacteria can cause rashes, skin lesions and even blood poisoning if it’s not treated with antibiotics.

Muskox are also increasingly affected by lung worm — which can’t be passed on to people, but can weaken the animals.

These are among the troubling signs of change that representatives from the region’s hunters and trappers organizations considered at the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board’s annual general meeting last week in Cambridge Bay.

Other changes in wildlife discussed at the meeting: the presence of new marine mammals, such as narwhals, which recently turned up in Cambridge Bay for the second year in the row, belugas, which came into Kugluktuk, and killer whales, also spotted with the new whale species.

Meanwhile, caribou are moving around to different places, possibly due to changing ice conditions or stress from development.

Hunters at the wildlife meeting also reported seeing increases in the numbers of predators, such as wolves, which come into communities or roam around in packs of up to 60 animals out on the land, as well as grizzly bears and polar bears.

But seeing more of these animals doesn’t add up to more hunting.

Despite the greater numbers of polar bears around Victoria Island and King William Island, there’s not much hunters there can do except complain — which they did in Cambridge Bay.

That’s because they haven’t been able to hunt polar bears from the McClintock Channel for more than 10 years.

The moratorium on hunting there came after a 2000 survey showed only 288 polar bears in the McClintock Channel rather than 700, as earlier estimated. That survey indicated that, without a reduction in the hunt, the population would decline and be reduced to zero within 10 years.

To allow the population to recover, the United States banned the import of all new polar bear trophies from the McClintock Channel, and Nunavut then placed a 10-year moratorium on the subsistence hunt there.

Those 10 years are up, but the ban is still in place.

Those at the wildlife meeting heard that Nunavut doesn’t plan to start a survey there until 2014, which could support the hunters’ observations and possibly lead to the end of the moratorium.

This means 15 years are likely to pass before hunters in Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay may hunt polar bears around their communities, which, like others in Nunavut, report seeing more polar bears.

“We’re frustrated we’re still in a moratorium. We have more polar bears coming into our community, and it is a concern for all the communities,” said James Panioyak, the newly-elected vice-chairman of the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Management Board and president of the Ikaluktutiak HTO.

That’s echoed by James Qitsualik from the Gjoa Haven HTO and the regional wildlife board’s new secretary-treasurer, who said “our hunters have been patient, but this has to be dealt with.”

However, discussions during the four-day wildlife board meeting show hunters’ ability to manage wildlife is often limited by rules and regulations, such as the moratorium on polar bear hunting in the McClintock Channel.

For example, the current quota for grizzly bears, a species that’s in trouble in many other regions, doesn’t reflect the growing numbers of grizzly bears in the Kitikmeot.

But hunters can’t take more — or as some suggested, develop a grizzly bear sports hunt — because the species is in trouble elsewhere and there’s no management plan yet for Nunavut’s grizzlies.

As well, the presence of narwhal and beluga are so new to the waters around Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, and their population size hasn’t been surveyed, so there’s no quota set that adequately reflects what hunters see in their communities.

On top of that, these wildlife population changes mean hunters must learn new skills, such as how to hunt belugas and narwhals, acquire new equipment like survival suits and travel further —and to unfamiliar places — to hunt.

There’s a level of frustration you can feel when HTO representatives talk about collaborating with surveys and sampling, when they feel this gives more control to outside parties.

Other forces from outside their region also load on new worries: many at the wildlife board meeting said they’re increasingly concerned about mining development and the impact of more shipping through the Northwest Passage and the noise and disturbance this might bring.

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