Polar bear season used to be an autumn thing in Arviat, an Inuit village in southern Nunavut on Hudson Bay. But changes in sea ice brought on by climate change mean polar bears now show up any time of year in Arviat. Frightened residents say bears have stalked them, peered in their windows and killed their sled dogs. But scientists and the Canadian government, fearing the bears are endangered by global warming, are reluctant to take drastic action to protect what is perhaps the most bear-besieged community in Canada. Villagers say there are plenty of healthy polar bears and more hunting is needed.
In private, many scientists dismiss [villager] views as folklore, and some environmentalists suspect the motives of the Inuit because they can sell bear hunts to wealthy foreign hunters for up to $40,000 apiece. (The community of Arviat has voted to keep its annual quota of nine bears for local Inuit hunters.) Some bear scientists also suggest that the “perceived increase” of polar bears is actually caused by stressed, hungry bears wandering into communities. As Professor Derocher puts it, “Some of these bears we think have been pushed off the ice early, away from their primary prey, so they get desperate.” Inuit hunter Darryl Baker scoffs at this contention. “Most of the bears coming into Arviat are fat and healthy. I skinned the bear that stalked my daughter last spring, and it had lots of fat on it.”
In 2012, the Nunavut government conducted a long-awaited census of western Hudson Bay polar bears and came up with 1,013 animals, or about twice as many as the number projected by Environment Canada. Dr. Mitch Taylor, a lifelong polar bear scientist who, at times, has been ostracized by his peers for insisting that polar bear populations are generally stable, took some satisfaction from the results. “The Inuit were right. There aren’t just a few more bears. There are a hell of a lot more bears.”
Read more at UpHere magazine: Besieged by bears