@roosAndHooves: Caribou chin-view: approaching the Ungava calving ground, looking after a newborn calf. More info: http://www.caribou-ungava.ulaval.ca/en/accueil/ https://twitter.com/roosAndHooves/status/833773865205633024/video/1
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Without a just fight there is no victory.
So bear populations are either increasing or declining. Hunting is either an ecological outrage or a perfectly sustainable aboriginal right. On balance, the majority of polar bear scientists agree that even if the current state of things looks shakily stable, the future for bears is poor. Nonetheless, as long as climate change is political, polar bears will be too. And the tone of the discussion can get downright ugly.
The tourists come, of course, because polar bears are a dying breed, and they want to check that furry face off their life lists before it’s too late. The environmental movement has never had a higher-profile spokesmodel than Ursus maritimus. Every discussion about global warming has to include a mention of polar bears; every article about the human disregard for nature has to feature a photograph of a sad-looking bear on a tiny speck of ice.
Granted, the population numbers have been startling. Research from 1984 to 2004 showed that the western Hudson Bay population, which includes the Churchill bears, had declined from 1,194 to 935. The trendlines from that study suggested that by 2011, the population would fall to as low as 676.
Fast-forward to today and a new study, which reveals that the current polar bear population of western Hudson Bay is 1,013 animals.
Wait … what? More bears than there were 10 years ago? Nearly double the prediction? “Polar bears are one of the biggest conservation success stories in the world,” says Drikus Gissing, wildlife director for the Government of Nunavut. “There are more bears here now than there were in the recent past.”
“That’s false,” says Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, the international advocacy organization that, in 2008, successfully pushed to have polar bears listed as “threatened” in the United States. “Polar bear populations are in decline. That means individual bears are starving and drowning.”
Take the population in the greater Churchill area, for example, which was analyzed in a 2012 paper entitled Western Hudson Bay Polar Bear Aerial Survey. While the Government of Nunavut, which commissioned the study, was quick to trumpet an increase in polar bear numbers — and call for higher hunting quotas — the University of Minnesota scientists who actually did the work were more judicious. The sea ice in Hudson Bay is now breaking up two to three weeks earlier than it did three decades ago. And since a bear on land is easier to spot from a helicopter than a bear on the ice, catastrophically early ice breakup may have just made the bears more visible. By that logic, a higher count could actually be evidence that the bears are doing worse.
A follow up to 2017
In Canada, hunting rules are determined by individual provinces and territories, so a particularly peripatetic bear in Hudson Bay could wind up being “managed” by Manitoba, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec and possibly even Newfoundland. Factor in the disparate laws in the other four polar bear nations — the United States, Russia, Greenland and Norway — and you’ve got a recipe for worldwide confusion.
Approximately two-thirds of the world’s polar bears live in Canada, and about 600 are legally hunted here every year. Of that, 86 percent of the hunting occurs in Nunavut. For years, First Nations and Inuit residents of polar bear country have reported increased interaction with bears. More bears are coming into settlements, scavenging garbage, hassling dogs and terrifying residents. But some scientists counter that if bears were doing well, they wouldn’t come around town and, therefore, a greater number of bear encounters is actually evidence of fewer bears.
The truth about polar bears
Unlike some endangered species that can be saved by roping off a grove of trees, polar bears live locally and suffer globally. Although some scientists have suggested creating protected refuges in the High Arctic, what’s really important is how much rain forest the Brazilians will burn in the next 50 years and how many Texans will buy SUVs instead of tuning up their 10-speeds. And few of the environmentalists who visit Churchill talk about the thousands of kilometres they flew to get there or whether a tourist town in the middle of nowhere is part of the reason why the sea ice is melting in the first place.
We Went to a Fur Auction in North Bay
Turns out it’s where you can buy 90% of Canada’s legally harvested polar bear fur.
He said that they’re the “eyes and ears” of the Ministry of Natural Resources, who rely heavily on the numbers reported by hunting and trapping quotas to record data about the health and sustainability of certain species. He also made a point to note that trapping methods are constantly progressing, and the laws of trapping are based on making a kill as humane as possible. He summed it up as: “You can’t just dig a hole and put spikes at the bottom of it.”
From what I gathered, the government of Nunavut has a contract with certain Inuit groups who guarantee them at least $10,000 dollars per bear. Nunavut also has a contract with the Fur Harvesters Auction in North Bay, which is where they send all of the furs to be sold. If a fur sells for more than 10 G’s, the hunter picks up the surplus, if it sells for less (which isn’t likely) they still keep that guaranteed 10k.
Yesterday, Fur Harvesters released the sales numbers from Tuesday’s auction and stated that it set an “all time historical gross sales record… and this was made possible by the Chinese market that continues to dominate.” In case you’re too lazy to click through, they sold 24,078 muskrat at about $15 bucks a pop, the top wolverine wet for $800 bucks, and the prize grizzly bear ran some fur collector $1,550. Polar bear wasn’t listed in the results, but there were 150 bears laid out with each fur going for as little as $10,000 and as much as $30,000 USD. So if they were all sold, they would have been the highest earners, grossing somewhere in a conservative estimate of around $2 million.
IT’s obvious why the people who are on the fur industry’s front lines don’t want a lot of attention paid to the polar bear trade. Considering how controversial it’s made out to be, Fur Harvesters really could have told me to go fly a goddamn kite in a goddamn lightning storm, but they were remarkably open, accommodating, and understanding as to why I’d be interested in their line of work. The plight of the polar bear is more complex than simply ragging on the Inuit who have been hunting them for thousands of years, but I can understand why someone would look at a room full of 150 polar bear carcasses and freak the fuck out. It’s a tricky issue, but after my highly positive experience hanging out with the trappers, I’d much rather spend time with them than a bunch of anti-fur types who don’t see the appeal of hanging out in a room full of international ballers who are looking to buy new rugs. That’s just me though.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @ddner
Check these things out if you like fur:
The hunt is part and parcel of a very bloody, horrific, painful experience for the bears
Detective-Sergeant Cynthia Mann of the Conservation Officer Service’s major investigation unit said in an interview Wednesday that the Wildlife Act defines resident hunters as Canadian citizens or permanent residents whose primary residences are in B.C. and who are physically present in B.C. the “greater portion of each of six calendar months out of the 12 calendar months” preceding both their application for the hunt and the date of the actual hunt.
The legal argument is that Stoner did not meet those conditions due to living out of the province as a professional hockey player. At the time of the hunt, Stoner played for the Minnesota Wild but joined Anaheim as a free agent in 2014. “All five charges are directly related to the residency requirement,” Mann said.
Anyone who cannot meet that criteria must pay to hunt with a licensed B.C. guide-outfitter — typically, about $25,000 US for a coastal grizzly. The charges carry potential maximum fines of $50,000 to $250,000.
Stoner said through the Anaheim head office Wednesday that he did not wish to comment.
Faisal Moola, a director general with the David Suzuki Foundation, said it is interesting that the province has charged Stoner for “bureaucratic reasons” while continuing to allow a cruel sport that is at odds with the “morals and ethics” of average British Columbians. Coastal First Nations also believe it is disrespectful and unethical to kill bears for trophies and not for food.