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More bears out there: Coral HTO president

Brent Reaney
Northern News Services

Coral Harbour (July 13/05) - After seeing four polar bears within a month, including one that damaged a cabin, Coral Harbour hunters say there are more bears in the Western Hudson Bay than scientists believe.

In late June, the international Polar Bear Specialist Group recommended the Western Hudson Bay bear quote be reduced.

A study conducted by Canadian Wildlife Service scientists measured the population at 950 animals - a decrease of nearly 15 per cent from 10 years ago.

But in the past month, four bears have been sited in or around Coral Harbour, one of which had to be killed in self defense, according to Willie Nakoolak, president of the Aiviit Hunters and Trappers Organization.

Nakoolak said a bear damaged his cabin 20 kilometres from Coral on June 24, while he was in town picking up groceries. A smashed window, a mangled mattress, and a broken Coleman stove were among the souvenirs left by his four-legged intruder.

"It wrecked everything," he said.

Also in June, a hunter ran into an animal less than a mile from the south end of the community.

"It was running away, but for sure it was going to come back. It was just coming too close," Nakoolak said. The animal was shot.

Nakoolak said he is sure there are more bears nearby.

Polar bear biologist Ian Stirling, of the Canadian Wildlife Service has said more sitings does not necessarily mean there are more bears. According to his research, the young bears are coming into town to look for food they would normally have obtained on the sea ice, which is melting sooner because of warmer arctic temperatures.

Nakoolak said he has heard reports of quota reductions being recommended by various groups, though he tends to side with the hunters on the issue. He is happy to hear the Nunavut government say consultations with communities are planned before action is taken.

He remembers travelling around Nunavut as part of a 2003 consultation process. The plan was to reduce the territory's quotas, he said.

But hunters say the number of animals was increasing, a 115-tag increase was eventually approved by Environment Minister Olayuk Akesuk this past January.

No matter what the number, Nakoolak thinks the community should be concerned about bears prowling around town.

"It's not safe at all."