The Globe and Mail reports that an an aerial survey released Wednesday by the Government of Nunavut indicates a healthy (perhaps growing?) population of polar bears on the western shore of Hudson’s Bay. While you’d think this would count as good news, the politics of climate change are such that it’s bound to become fodder in that persistent fight.
Is the count accurate? Is the information biased? What, if anything, does it mean? As the article explains:
The debate over the polar-bear population has been raging for years, frequently pitting scientists against Inuit. In 2004, Environment Canada researchers concluded that the numbers in the region had dropped by 22 per cent since 1984, to 935. They also estimated that by 2011, the population would decrease to about 610. That sparked worldwide concern about the future of the bears and prompted the Canadian and American governments to introduce legislation to protect them.
But many Inuit communities said the researchers were wrong. They said the bear population was increasing and they cited reports from hunters who kept seeing more bears.
According to the article, Andrew Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, said it was premature to draw many conclusions and added that some details in the survey pointed to a bear population in trouble.
This issue is complicated by the fact that it also involves money. Money raised by environmental organizations for which the polar bear is a poster child of looming extinction. Money needed by Inuit communities that still hunt polar bears under a quota system.
There’s much at stake in the debate. Population figures are used to calculate quotas for hunting, a lucrative industry for many northern communities. Hunting polar bears is highly regulated but Inuit communities can sell their quota to sport hunters, who must hunt with Inuit guides. A polar-bear hunting trip can cost up to $50,000. Demand for polar-bear fur is also soaring in places like China and Russia and prices for some pelts have doubled in the past couple of years, reaching as high as $15,000.
The Nunavut hunting quota in the western Hudson Bay area fell to 8 from 56 after the 2004 report from Environment Canada. The Nunavut government increased it slightly last year but faced a storm of protest. Over all, about 450 polar bears are killed annually across Nunavut. Mr. Gissing said a new quota is expected to be announced in June. (Editor’s not: Drikus Gissing is Nunavut’s director of wildlife management)
A glance at the comment page for the Globe and Mail article rings with a chorus of climate-change skeptics, who consider news reports of this type sweet vindication.