The Inuit fight in Canada with the federal government over polar bear conservation status continues. The government, led by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, reduced polar bear hunting quotas in 2015. In response, Inuit groups have submitted affidavits in federal court stating that polar bears are thriving. The court dismissed the Inuit challenge even though polar bears in Canada are not considered threatened or vulnerable to extinction. This arbitrary political decision by the government undermines the scientific assessment done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and tramples Inuit rights.
From the Toronto Sun (4 November 2019): ‘NOT GOING EXTINCT’: Court documents claim Canadian polar bear population is thriving [my bold]
“Inuit have not noticed a significant decline in the health of the polar bears,” the director of wildlife management for the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board wrote in a court affidavit.
“In fact Nunavik Inuit report that it is rare to see a skinny bear and most bears are observed to be healthy,” the affidavit read.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have used the polar bear population as evidence of the effect of climate change.
However, the affidavit claimed Nunavut residents have seen an “increase in the polar bear population and a particularly notable increase since the 1980s.” The affidavits were submitted in response to hunting quota cuts made by Environment Canada.
Environment Canada cited “conservation concerns” as justification for the cuts. The Inuit challenge was ultimately dismissed.
One hunter was quoted in a Wildlife Board report saying there’s no “shortage” of polar bears and that “they’re (polar bears) not going extinct.”
The Wildlife Board report also claimed, “Many participants were very concerned about perspectives from outside Nunavik that polar bears are endangered elsewhere.”
“All interviews conducted in the Southern Hudson Bay communities shared the view the population grew somewhat from the 1960s until the 1980s, and that a continued increase has been very noticeable since that time,” the report said.
Polar bears aren’t listed as a threatened or endangered species by a federal panel monitoring Canadian wildlife under the Species At Risk Act, Blacklock’s Reporter reports.
A bit more detail was available in the original report filed at Blacklock’s Reporter (4 November 2019, restricted content), my bold:
“Affidavits were submitted in an Inuit challenge of Department of Environment cuts to voluntary hunting quotas. The department had claimed hunting in the Southern Hudson Bay “is likely not sustainable and creates conservation concerns”.
Justice Paul Favel dismissed the challenge but recognized “the profound cultural importance of the polar bear hunt is the most important factor for the Inuit, and that this factor should have weighed more heavily in the balance for the Minister,” he wrote.
The Canadian Arctic bear population totals some 15,500 animals, according to the Government of Nunavut. Bears in the Southern Hudson Bay region of Nunavut, Ontario and Québec number about 943.
Inuit management boards since 2011 had set voluntary hunting quotas. Environment Canada in 2015 rejected that year’s quota, prompting the Federal Court challenge.“
So, this is part of an on-going dispute that began in 2015.
If this is an accurate summary of the situation it is a travesty of government interference over science.
Biologists at COSEWIC announced in December 2018 that the polar bear is not threatened or endangered but remains a species of “special concern” (i.e. one to watch). I wrote about it here. In other words, COSEWIC biologists again refused to follow the US example of declaring the polar bear ‘threatened’ based on possible future threats predicted by climate change computer models because all the evidence (including Inuit knowledge) shows the bears are currently doing just fine despite recent declines in summer sea ice.
I have also written about the latest population assessment of Southern Hudson Bay polar bears here. A recent decline in numbers in that population was not statistically significant but another test suggested the decline might be real, so the population was deemed to have declined.
COSEWIC decisions for any one species under review are made up of biologists and wildlife managers from a wide range of related fields: for example, biologists working on mountain goats, belugas, and other mammals (in addition to polar bear specialists) would work together make the final status assessment. This prevents individuals from one specialist field dominating the decision for the species they represent and ensures that the best possible science is applied to all species under consideration.
Hunting quotas are set for individual Inuit districts based on local population health informed by scientific studies and Inuit knowledge. Having a government minister step in and make a decision to reduce hunting quotas across the board (as appears to be the case, if not I will correct) undermines the COSEWIC decision process and tramples Inuit rights for no other reason than to score political points.
Minister McKenna (recently re-elected for another four years) was taken in by the infamous National Geographic bogus ‘starving’ polar bear video of 2017 (see below). Even though the connection to climate change was later retracted, McKenna did not remove her tweet nor has she changed her stance. She embraces the notion of a coming climate change apocalypse after 12 years and adopts the alarmist rhetoric used by organizations like Polar Bears International.
On 9 December 2017, McKenna used her official government twitter account to state: “THIS is what climate change looks like. Climate change is real. As are its impacts. Time to stand up for our polar bears and our planet.“
THIS is what climate change looks like. Climate change is real. As are its impacts. Time to stand up for our polar bears and our planet. https://t.co/Vzx6REMAzp
— Catherine McKenna (@cathmckenna) December 9, 2017
Bottom line: Government interference in this matter of animal conservation and traditional Inuit hunting rights puts political objectives over carefully considered science.
November 5, 2019 at 12:44PM