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COLUMN: More challenges to coexistence

The people of Naujaat are not alone when it comes to anger sweeping the community following a hunter's death from being mauled by a bear this past month.

The community of Arviat dealt with similar grief the previous month, and another tragedy was narrowly averted in Rankin Inlet two weeks ago.

Social media sites have become verbal battle grounds between southerners who have little to no understanding of the Northern environment – some being twisted enough to actually go so far as to be cheering for the bears in their attacks – and Inuit and a number of their fellow Northerners who have a deep-rooted history of successfully managing wildlife stocks while executing their necessary hunting rights.

It is more than a little unsettling to realize just how many voices in the south spew forth from people who equate nanuk to the cuddly creatures featured in animated film, or portrayed by the likes of the computer-generated bears once prominently featured in Coca-Cola commercials.

Nanuk is one of the world's most dangerous predators – one known to kill for the act of killing itself (surplus killing) – and there is absolutely nothing cute and cuddly about it.

However, polar bears and man are, to a point, forced to coexist in the North, and when powerful predators and man are forced to coexist, tragedy can strike at any time.

The spotlight is now shining more brightly on Churchill, Man., and the effect tourism and the infamous Tundra Buggy may be having on nanuk's behavioural patterns.

Of course, more often than not, no matter what the circumstances surrounding a tragic bear encounter, many southerners start screaming climate change, claiming the bears are vulnerable and on the edge of being an endangered species.

They are predicted to be extinct in as little as 30 years in some corners, and are portrayed to be slowly starving to death, becoming more bold in man's presence and habitat than ever before.

I am no wildlife biologist. Therefore I have no educational foundation for making predictions regarding the bears. However, I am an inquisitive type of bloke and a voracious reader, so I do have a bit of a handle on a number of the issues surrounding nanuk today.

And I believe what my eyes tell me. While almost every bear I see has been captured on film by the educated, involved or hunting, I do see a number of them annually and the vast majority don't look like they're on the edge of starvation to me.

In fact, they look far from it.

The majority of hunters in our region believe the polar bear population is far healthier than what's being portrayed, and, although they have a vested interest in a healthy bear population, they have a wealth of practical experience and traditional knowledge to back their claims.

Others claim – even though there have been recent increases in the number of tags allotted – that there are too few tags being issued for the number of bears walking and swimming around.

Theoretically, this has created a buffer zone of sorts for the bears, and they're growing increasingly bolder because they're moving safely in areas where, previously, they wouldn't have been moving for long had they encountered man on their travels.

They're also encroaching upon man's turf with increasing regularity and suffering little, if any, consequence, especially when one considers the level of questioning and investigating that can now follow a defense kill.

The battle cry is becoming if I see a bear, I'm killing the bear.

And, based on the tragedies that shook Arviat and Naujaat – and came too close for comfort in Rankin – it's becoming increasingly difficult to oppose that stance.

This is not about conservation. This is about safety, with a healthy dose of cause and effect thrown in for good measure.

Hopefully, the next round of talks with the Kivalliq Wildlife Board, as well as the next layer of applied science to be initiated, will ease tension and increase safety.

Meanwhile, if not shoot it first, then definitely safety first should be the Kivalliq battle cry when it comes to the ongoing saga of man and beast coexisting in an ever-changing and slowly shrinking world.