Fort Severn Chief Joe Crowe said polar bear numbers are not down after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species recently defeated a ban on polar bear trade.
“The MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) was claiming that the population of polar bears are declining,” Crowe said. “I don’t believe that.”
Ontario changed the classification of the polar bear population from special concern to threatened in 2009, and has since developed a Recovery Strategy for Polar Bear in Ontario.
“The MNR is looking at usually along the coast of Hudson Bay for how many polar bears are along the shore line,” Crowe said. “They (polar bears) don’t usually hang around along the shore line. At the end of July or the beginning of August, they usually migrate inland quite a ways.”
Crowe noted that a polar bear was seen in Shamattawa, Manitoba, located about 400 kilometers south of Hudson Bay, in 2010.
Polar bears usually return to the coast around Fort Severn during November and early December.
“When there is no ice out on the bay yet, they hang around the coast line,” Crowe said. “They just follow the ice as it freezes, the edge of the ice line looking for something to eat, seals to hunt. That’s the only time they hang around here on the coast line.”
Crowe said polar bears do not seem to be afraid of people as they once were.
“They just come right through the community some times,” Crowe said. “One time a couple of years ago the kids were skating in the outdoor arena, and the polar bear chased all the kids out of there.”
Tommy Miles, a Fort Severn researcher who completed the Survey of Polar Bear Migration and Habitat in Fort Severn Nation in 2009, said there are more polar bears than before.
“Even with the climate change and the sea ice melting, they are adapting and there are certainly more and more polar bears now than before,” Miles said. “They are adapting to the warmer climate; they’re moving inland up small rivers hunting seals, so we’re getting more polar bear interactions with the community.”
Miles said he had to shoot one polar bear in his yard from inside his doorway last fall.
“There were a couple shot this early winter,” Miles said. “The first one was trying to break into a house. And the second one was shot by my brother Angus as he sneaked up on people ice fishing.”
Miles recently counted 56 polar bears last fall during an MNR helicopter polar bear survey on East End Island, a 5-kilometre by 1-kilometre sand bar.
“In that little area, there were 56 polar bears,” Miles said. “There are more and more. And probably 75 kilometres, maybe 80 kilometres to the (Manitoba) border and east of the border, we counted about 246 all together in that small area.”
Meanwhile, 2010 research numbers indicated the Southern Hudson Bay sub-population of polar bears, located in the James Bay and Hudson Bay area of Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut, was stable at about 1,000 polar bears.
The world-wide population of polar bears is estimated at about 20,000-28,000, with about two-thirds located in Canada.
The Recovery Strategy for Polar Bear in Ontario prescribed eight recovery objectives, such as reducing the impact of global climate change within Ontario, identifying, protecting and adaptively co-managing polar bear habitat in Ontario and conducting research to fill knowledge gaps that will aid in the recovery and protection of polar bears and their habitat.