Kinngait residents terrified by polar bears repeatedly coming into the community since early December may soon get a break as a dozen polar bear hunting tags are available for distribution.
“It’s going to be a big relief when people find out that they can hunt polar bears once again,” said Mayor Timoon Toonoo.
Numerous residents have reported sightings and encounters involving single and multiple bears over the past several days.
Toonoo said he heard of one incident where children were playing outside a home when a bear approached. An adult quickly ushered the youngsters inside, picking up and carrying one of them in the rush to ensure their safety.
“It was a very close call,” Toonoo said, adding that the bears most often come into town at night.
The community’s conservation officer left his position in October, according to the mayor. The consequent disruption in communication resulted in the Aiviq Hunters and Trappers Association (HTA) being unaware that 12 polar bear tags were accessible, said Toonoo. The community was under the impression that all the tags had been used.
He attributes the increasing interactions with polar bears to climate change.
“Global warming is affecting us,” he said. “Normally, this time of the year, we would have access to the ice all the way down to probably 15 miles, 16 (miles). We would see polar bears out there hunting for seals … but they’ve got nowhere to hunt.”
Ice has only recently started forming in the bay near the community, he noted.
He said he can remember travelling from Dorset Island to Baffin Island over solid ice in September decades ago, but that wasn’t possible until January this year.
“It’s a big difference right now,” he said.
Toonoo added that the lack of demand for polar bear hides, and resulting lower value, has made hunting bears less appealing to hunters in general.
The Department of Environment confirmed that hunting tags for the Foxe Basin sub-population are available in Kinngait for the 2021-22 polar bear harvest season.
In a statement, the department noted that wildlife deterrence continues in the Qikiqtani community through a combination of the RCMP, visits from conservation officers based in regional headquarters and co-ordination with the HTA and the hamlet — however, the department noted that it had not received any complaints about polar bears in Kinngait recently.
The law also allows individuals to kill wildlife in defence of life and property. The Department of Environment investigates such incidents. If it is determined that the action was justified, the meat, hide and other animal byproducts are returned to the community.