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Arviat polar bear slaughter sparks debate

The killing of five polar bears around Arviat in recent weeks has sparked a debate over how the population should be managed.

The animals were left unharvested and hunters had already used up all the tags allocated for the Kivalliq region earlier this year, which means the bears were shot illegally.

Five polar bears have been killed in Arviat in recent weeks following the death of Aaron Gibbons who died protecting his children from an attack last month. The kills exceed the quota for the Kivalliq region and are currently being investigated by Nunavut's Department of Environment. NNSL file photo

The slaughter comes just a few weeks after Aaron Gibbons died protecting his children from a polar bear attack on Sentry Island near the community. The bear is one of the five that was killed.

Paul Irngaut, director of the Wildlife and Environment department of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., said it is understandable bears are being killed in Arviat given the tragic circumstances.

“It's natural for any community take action,” he said. “We feel for the community and we know they're hurting and we're very supportive.”

Arviat's deputy mayor Brian Aglukark Sr. has been an outspoken critic of the government's approach to polar bear management ever since Gibbons' death. In a Facebook post on July 31, he called on Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main to start a dialogue with his constituents on the issue.

Aglukark witnessed the attack on Gibbons and was one of several people who tried to revive him at the scene.

Aglukark could not be reached for comment. However in a public Facebook post from July 7, which received 76 likes, Aglukark advocated killing polar bears without harvesting them.

“In the absence of a system that protects Inuit, it’s life traditional style, when I come across a polar bear while I camp, while berry picking, fishing, hunting an animal or marine mammal, I shall without remorse, guilt or thought of the management systems in place- kill the polar bear and leave its carcass where it fell,” states the post.
According to section 5.6.52 of Nunavut Lands Claims agreement, “a person may kill wildlife if it is necessary to preserve a human life or to protect that person's property.”

The Department of Environment declined an interview request to discuss polar bear management.

In an email to Kivalliq News senior policy analyst Jonathan Pynn, stated the department is working with the Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization, “to prevent any further illegal killings of polar bears.”

Communities in the Kivalliq and especially Arviat have long been calling for an increase in polar bear harvesting quotas.

Earlier this year, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board bumped up the quota for polar bear harvesting to 34 animals from 28, and it would like to see that number increased even more, said Irngaut.

“We've advocated for the HTOs, requests and we've always supported the communities for an increase,” he said.

At the time, the Government of Nunavut requested for the quota to be kept at 28 because the territory's polar bear population declined to 842 animals in 2016, down from 1,030 in 2011. The management plan for Kivalliq's polar bear population is currently being reviewed.

The NWMB is expected to hold community consultations on polar bear management in Arviat this fall.