IQALUIT, Canada – A diverse group of stakeholders representing Arctic regional governments, industry, researchers and Inuit reached a new unanimous agreement to tackle the growing issue of conflict between people and polar bears.
Human and polar bear conflict is becoming an increasing challenge in the North, where various factors including changes in sea-ice persistence due to rapid climate change have altered the behaviour patterns of some polar bears. To date, conflict-prevention measures have operated at a community level and this workshop represented the first regional collaboration across all jurisdictions.
The Front-Line Operators Workshop (FLOW) held March 22-24, 2016 was co-organized by WWF-Canada, Polar Bears International and the University of Saskatchewan, with the Governments of Nunavut and Manitoba. Participants included representatives from governments, tourism operators, Inuit hunters, northern communities, service providers, and key Inuit organisations. The workshop focused on addressing the challenges communities face by learning from experiences of the participants and identifying opportunities for greater collaboration. Topics covered during the workshop included deterrent measures currently in use, community waste management and country food storage, training needs, as well as bear safety education.
As the workshop concluded, participants agreed to a series of next steps for the group, starting with the release of workshop proceedings and recommendations by June 2016. The top three main objectives are:
● The need for more effective measures to keep people and polar bears safe;
● The need to increase knowledge and support capacity;
● The need to collaborate better across communities.
This first cross-regional gathering developed strong new relationships that will enable more effective collaboration on sensitive issues.
Lorraine Brandson, curator, Itsanitaq Museum, Churchill, Man.:
“To see the mutual respect and sharing between the Churchill front-line operators and their Inuit neighbours around the Bay in Nunavut and Nunavik was very inspiring. People were of one mind and goal to protect human life and bears using each other’s best practices and rich experience in the North.”
Paulusi Novalinga, president, Nunavik HFTA, Puvirnituq, Que.:
“It is terrific that we made a big commitment to better educate our children, our community people and tourists about polar bears and how to manage the conflicts with people and their property.”
Jon Neely, coordinator operations and regulations, Wildlife Management Division, Department of Environment, Government of Nunavut:
“The Government of Nunavut was pleased to be part of this workshop. It enabled us to share our extensive knowledge and expertise in the management of bear-human conflict, and provided us with an opportunity to learn from other front-line operators. There were also good discussions focused on the numerous factors that may lead to an increase in polar bear-human conflict. We look forward to continuing to work with our regional partners to ensure the safety of people and maintenance of healthy bear populations in Nunavut.”
Andrew Maher, resource conservation manager, Nunavut Field Unit, Parks Canada Agency:
“Parks Canada was happy to be a part of this important conversation about polar bear safety and human-wildlife conflict management. Canada’s national parks are gateways to nature, adventure and discovery. Safety of park visitors, community members and employees is a top priority and this workshop allowed us to share some of our current best practices and learn new techniques and ideas from others. The discussions held with such a fantastic group of knowledge holders will help to grow our collective knowledge and collaborate more closely together in the future.”
Peter Ewins, lead species conservation specialist, WWF-Canada:
“This workshop was a superb demonstration of what can be achieved when you put all the knowledgeable key people in one place for a few days. We heard a unanimous call for much better regional collaboration, increased knowledge, education and resource support (including funding), and proper effective measures applied in all key communities in order to appropriately prevent conflicts.”