Management measures are integral to the conservation of polar bears in Canada and have existed in the current form since the 1970s. The management regimes and conservation measures for polar bears apply to subsistence harvesting, sport hunting (where applicable), and trade of the species, and are both successful and functional in Canada’s Arctic regions. In most regions, harvest is controlled through a carefully assessed quota system involving local communities, Wildlife Management Boards established through Land Claims Agreements, and provincial, territorial and federal governments. Quotas are established based upon the best available scientific information as well as Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge. This system strives to continually maintain viable populations while maintaining access to polar bears for subsistence use and economic benefits for Arctic communities through the sale of skins to fur dealers and, in some regions, through sport hunting. In Ontario, only First Nations hunters who are Treaty 9 members residing along the Hudson Bay and James Bay coast can legally harvest polar bear. There is a permissible kill of no more than 30 bears per year that is controlled by restricting the annual sale of hides under a trapper’s licence to those hides with an official seal attached by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
Quotas in other jurisdictions are allocated exclusively to Aboriginal peoples and include all known human-caused mortalities: subsistence harvest, sport hunting, known illegal kills, and kills in defence of life and property. Illegal harvest of polar bear is extremely rare in Canada and is not a threat to the species; there is no incentive to illegally trade items derived from polar bears as legal international trade satisfies trade demand.
Harvest of polar bears within Canada is strictly regulated and monitored annually by jurisdictions. Hunting permits and quota are used to determine the number of animals harvested per year in each jurisdiction. Mandatory reporting of all human kills to jurisdictional conservation officers is required in Nunavut, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Trade of polar bear within Canada is monitored via jurisdictional export permits, and international trade is monitored via the CITES permitting system. Compliance and quality of reporting of harvest is high, because jurisdictions have a shared interest to ensure long-term, sustainable harvest of the species.
What is Co-Management?
In Canada, polar bears are protected through cooperative management by the provinces, territories and regional wildlife management boards. This allows for a coordinated approach across the country and ensures that all organizations are meeting their responsibilities to conserve the species and international commitments.
The Government of Nunavut (GN) has the ultimate responsibility for the management of terrestrial mammal species under the Wildlife Act in Nunavut. The Minister of Environment carries out all NWMB decisions with respect to wildlife. The GN carries out research on all of Nunavut’s terrestrial mammal populations in order to inform key wildlife management decisions.
Land Claims Organizations
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (NTI) is mandated to ensure that the NCLA is implemented and that all its obligations are fulfilled. The NLCA is the largest land claim agreement in Canadian history and covers 1/5 of Canada’s land mass.