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WWF Canada invests $250,000 in new wildlife projects in the North

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada is prepared to ante up approximately $250,000 to fund new projects that will aim to benefit narwhal, beluga, caribou, polar bears and humans.

Research will entail a mixture of Inuit traditional knowledge and modern technology.

This map depicts the locations for research field work and the species being investigated through initiatives that the World Wildlife Fund Canada is sponsoring. photo courtesy of World Wildlife Fund Canada

Cumberland Sound beluga, a threatened species, will be tracked using drones and satellites to gain a better understanding of their habitat and nursery areas.

Decades of historic narwhal data – including recent tagging studies in the High Arctic – will be analyzed to detect how climate change and increased shipping may be affecting narwhal summer and winter habitats.

The behaviour and migrations patterns of barren-ground caribou, whose population has declined dramatically, will be closely monitored and feces samples will be evaluated – all with an eye on how mining may be impacting the herds.

Cameras will be trained on Western Hudson Polar bears near Arviat to probe what might be driving the bears into communities and creating more conflict between the predators and humans.

In past years, more than $400,000 has been allocated for Northern projects through WWF Canada's Arctic Species Conservation Fund, which is reliant on public, corporate and foundation donations. That fund has supported in excess of 50 Northern projects since its inception in 2015, many of which have university partners.

Bowhead whales were one of the species singled out for research in previous projects funded by World Wildlife Fund Canada. Among the animals being studied in this year's round of funding will be caribou,
narwhal, beluga and polar bears. photo courtesy of World Wildlife Fund Canada

Although WWF Canada is entering its fifth year of aiding projects through the Arctic fund, there aren't yet examples of how wildlife has been saved. That's because the process is complex, according to Brandon Laforest, WWF Canada's senior specialist for Arctic species and ecosystems, who's based in Iqaluit.

“We recognize that it takes a long time, especially to do research right with communities, it takes a long time to build trust and come up with information,” he said. “From the analysis perspective it often takes a long time to get enough sample size and longevity of data to say anything of consequence.”

WWF Canada's Iqaluit office hosts five staff including former premier Paul Okalik, who's the organization's lead Arctic adviser.

Among the project partners for 2019 are the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board and the Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization. One of WWF Canada's priorities is to have communities endorse or lead projects.
“You can't, in this day and age, do research that local people don't support,” said Laforest. “We've really learned the value of finding partnerships and finding mutual goals and working together on those goals.”

When the Taloyoak Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) set out to protect wildlife in the Boothia peninsula from mining and exploration activities a year ago, the HTO accepted technical expertise from WWF Canada.

"They've been very beneficial. They've been more than a help," said Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of the Taloyoak HTO. "They're good people."

Although WWF Canada sometimes has representatives attend hunters and trappers and regional wildlife board meetings to get a better grasp of the local perspective, there are occasions when the WWF and Indigenous people have differences of opinion about the health or populations of various species, Laforest acknowledged.

“I think we've really earned the ability to disagree sometimes, and it's not the end of the world if you have a difference of opinion,” he said. “What we really strive to do is always ensure that the best information is put forward for decision by the co-management authorities and then respect the decision that comes out. Even then if you have a dissenting opinion, I don't think that's a terrible thing. It creates conversation and it helps ultimately ensure the best management when all information is considered.”