A conservation officer is due to visit Kinngait this week, something that hasn’t occurred in five months.
Meanwhile, the community was repeatedly visited by at least two polar bears earlier this month. Several residents posted on social media about bear sightings near residential areas.
“This has to be stopped. Scary and dangerous. I hope everyone has been notified that this has been happening in the town,” a community member wrote in response, one of a few people to describe the situation as “scary.”
Similar circumstances occurred in early December, with bears frequently making forays into Kinngait over a few weeks.
The Department of Environment stated that the permanent conservation officer position in Kinngait, vacant since October, has not yet been advertised but department staff are “working within the Government of Nunavut’s hiring processes to fill the position.”
It was also noted that several previously scheduled relief visits by a temporary conservation officer were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the Legislative Assembly on March 11, Uqqummiut MLA Mary Killiktee inquired about Qikiqtarjuaq, where a staff vacancy for conservation officer dated back to the 5th Legislative Assembly and it was said to be due to a lack of staff housing.
“The community never seems to be able to keep a renewable resource or conservation officer,” Killiktee said, adding that one of Clyde River’s two positions also needs to be filled.
In regards to Qikiqtarjuaq, Environment Minister David Akeeagok replied, “The situation has been like that for a long time now and they are still waiting for staff housing and the situation is still the same. They get fly-in conservation officers and that’s how communities are dealt with when they don’t have a conservation officer. Some of the officials go into the communities and do the work that needs to be done. We do want to hire people, but sometimes it takes a very long time to fill the positions.”
Among a conservation officer’s duties is to deliver and administer services and projects relating to environmental protection and wildlife management. There’s a requirement to work with other organizations and agencies such as local hunters and trappers, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Wildlife Service and the RCMP.
In Kinngait, Mayor Timoon Toonoo said there are volunteers who scare off the bears by using their vehicles. Through his conversations with representatives of the local hunters and trappers association, he said he understands that there are five polar bear hunting tags available. However, there are multiple reasons why it’s more difficult to entice harvesters to use the tags, including fewer people eating polar bear meat, very low prices for polar bear hides and the considerable amount of work required to deal with the predator’s carcass. That process entails cutting the body, separating the fat and cleaning and drying the skin.
Adamie Nuna, chair of the Aiviq Hunters and Trappers in Kinngait, could not be reached for comment.