Optimizing Polar Bear Hunting and Fees in Nunavut

The Canadian territory of Nunavut occupies almost 1/5th of that country but is home to only about 30,000 people — and quite a few polar bears. The territory is occupied largely by Inuit who have long hunted polar bear, and is also home to a multi-million dollar industry in selling polar bear hunting permits to foreigners.

But how the annual polar bear quota is managed and how to best optimize the money earned from the hunt are topics that came to the fore this summer.

In July, the Polar Bear Specialist Group warned that as the Arctic appears to be shrinking from the increase in global temperatures, polar bear habitat is likely to decline as well which could put population pressures on the polar bear. It warned that by 2055, the polar bear population worldwide could decline by up to 30 percent.

Scott Schliebe, a researcher with the Polar Bear Specialist Group, told the CBC News,

We’re seeing some fairly significant reductions in the actual area that pack ice occupies in the Arctic, and we’re seeing some thinning in the thickness of the ice.

Schliebe and his fellow researchers issued their warning after Nunavut announced it was going to increase polar bear quotas for 2005. Again, Schliebe told the CBC News that his group believes Nunavut has overestimated the number of polar bears, adding that,

We would like those levels to be adjusted to the current population abundance estimate, 950 animals, and we would like the adjustment to be calculated as sustainable over time,

Nunavut announced in January that it was increasing the 2005 quote by 28 percent, saying that the population of polar bears is on the increase. But if the CBC is to be believed, its method of determining the polar bear population leaves a lot to be desired,

Nunavut’s environment minister, Olayuk Akesuk, says government officials decided to increase the quota after consulting with Inuit elders and hunters about how much the bear population has increased.

He said the government is open to making more decisions like this on the basis of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional knowledge.

“We will respect more the say of the community and we want to see more of Inuit knowledge and western science included into one,” he said.

Especially given the potential profit from polar bears, such increases should be based on sound scientific estimates of the number of polar bears, not hunters opinion about the status of the bear population.

When it comes to profiting off of the bear hunt, however, an economic study of the bear hunt suggests that Nunavut is not maximizing the money it could make off the hunt. In a study funded by Nunavat and the Safari Club, Dr. George Wenzel of McGill University found that of the $2.9 million hunters spend on the polar bear hunt, only half of that ends up in the pockets of the Inuit.

One of Wenzel’s major findings was that the Inuit may be underpricing polar bear tags. Currently it only charges $30,000 to $35,000, depending on the specific locale, to hunt a polar bear. Wenzel noted that in contrast U.S. hunters pay up to $400,0000 to hunt bighorn sheep in Alberta. As Wenzel told Nunatsiaq News,

If you can sell a sheep for that much, I’m sure you could sell a polar bear for more money than is coming in.

Currently, only about 50 polar bear hunt tags are sold to outside hunters. The rest are used by traditional Inuit hunters. Wenzel estimated that if Nunavut sold all its polar bear tags to outsiders, it could increase its income from the hunt to $14 million annually even if it stuck with the current $30,000 to $35,000 price.


Nunavut hunters can kill more polar bears this year. CBC News, January 10, 2005.

Rethink polar bear hunt quotas, scientists tell Nunavut hunters
. CBC News, July 4, 2005.

Boost price for polar bear hunt, researcher says. John Thompson, Nunatsiaq News, August 26, 2005.

Animal Defenders International Calls for Boycott of Sony Ericsson Over Ad Featuring Bear

After Sony Ericsson launched a TV ad featuring a performing bear, Animal Defenders International has called for a boycott of Sony Ericsson.

In a press release announcing its boycott, ADI chief executive Jan Creamer said,

The training of performing animals is both unnatural and callous, as wild animals are deprived of their species for normal social interaction and their habitat where they roam free. A brutal regime of repetitive training and domination by their trainers frequently involves coercion and physical punishment. In addition, these animals suffer daily as they are caged and chained by suppliers of animals for the TV and movie industries.

. . .

Global brands such as Sony Ericsson should take on board the fact that public opinion has long since moved away from watching performing animals, as the cruelty of their daily lives has been exposed. If the company find it acceptable to continue to use performing animals in this way, we call on their customers to switch phones to other brands.


ADI Calls for Sony Ericsson boycott. Press Release, Animal Defenders International, August 12, 2005.

New Jersey’s Fish and Game Council Proposes Bear Hunt

The New Jersey Fish and Game Council has again proposed a bear hunt this year, saying that it is the best way to deal with complaints about the state’s bear population which has grown to an estimated 3,400.

Of course the Fish and Game Council proposed a hunt last year, but that was ultimately halted by state environmental chief Bradley Campbell who blocked the hunt. That ultimately ended up in court, where the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Fish and Game Council could not proceed with a hunt without Campbell’s approval.

This year might be different, however, as the Council has been working with Campbell on plans for a hunt to be combined with a comprehensive bear management plan.

The current plan is to hold public hearings on the bear hunt proposal in September, and then Campbell has to decide whether or not to agree to the hunt which is currently planned to start December 5.


New Jersey bear hunt likely. United Press International, August 10, 2005.

Game Panel Approves Hunt To Control N.J.’s Bear Population. Associated Press, August 10, 2005.

Vietnam Agrees to Phase Out Bear Farms

In March, the World Society for the Protection of Animals announced that it had reach an agreement with Vietnam to create a task force that would be responsible for managing the phasing out of bear farms in that Asian country.

Although bear farms are already illegal in Vietnam, laws against them have rarely been enforced and the World Society for the Protection of Animals estimates there are about 3,000 bears on such farms.

The bears are raised by farmers to extract their bile which then is used in folk remedies for a wide range of health complaints.

Vietnam has agreed to micro-chip all bears in captivity to monitor farms and gradually close the farms. It will work with the World Society for the Protection of Animals to develop a sanctuary for the bears in Cat Tien National Park.


Vietnamese government to phase out bear farming. Press release, World Society for the Protection of Animals, March 10, 2005.

Vietnam promises to get rid of bear farms. Agence-France Press, March 10, 2005.

New Jersey Supreme Court Decision Effectively Ends Bear Hunt, But Still Activists Unhappy

In February the New Jersey Supreme Court made a ruling about the powers of different wildlife agencies in that state that effectively ended any possibility of a bear hunt. But animal rights activists found little else to celebrate in the decision.

New Jersey’s Fish and Game Council had approved and schedule a bear hunt that was to take place the week of December 6, 2004. They scheduled the bear hunt despite the fact that the Commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection opposed the hunt, maintaining that the DEP Commissioner’s approval was not necessary to hold the hunt.

In February the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled, in fact, that the DEP commissioner had final authority over a black bear hunt derived from his general statutory power to approve or disapprove comprehensive statewide policies that affect the black bear population, and statutory language that made it clear the Fish and Game Council’s policies were “subject to the approval of the [DEP] commissioner.”

Since the DEP commissioner has long been opposed to a black bear hunt, the hunt was canceled and is unlikely to return anytime soon.

But other than the black bear hunt, this ruling simply won’t change anything else. As longtime New Jersey anti-hunting activist Stuart Chaifetz noted in a letter sent out under the auspices of the Animal Protection PAC (emphasis added),

In order for the Commissioner to veto the Council, he or she needs to be in disagreement with the Council’s policy. This happened with the bear hunt because we made [former New Jersey Governor Jim] McGreevey’s life hell, and there was no way he wanted to go through that again (kudos to all of you who never relented in your activism, whether it was by calling, writing, or disrupting the former Gov’s events). The catch is that, save for the bear issue, [DEP Commissioner Bradley] Campbell isn’t in conflict with the Council over any other species. In fact, at the hearing for the Sunday bowhunting bill, Campbell sent a letter stating he was in favor of the damn thing.

. . .

While we rejoice that the Council has suffered another unprecedented blow (as they did when we set the first non-hunter on the Council 2000) there are still years of brutality ahead. Now, more than ever, we need to continue our growth as a political force so that we may one day be able to wield the power the Supreme Court has given us today.

The full text of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision can be read here(PDF file).


U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance v. N.J. Department of Environmental Protection. New Jersey Supreme Court, Decided February 28, 2005.

Supreme Court Ruling – Another Victory Against the Hunters. Stuart Chaifetz, E-mail, February 28, 2005.

After Failure of Bear Baiting Referendum, Maine Activists Focus on Narrower Legislation

In November, Maine voters handily ejected a referendum that would have banned bear baiting, trapping and hunting bears with hounds. Activists are now turning their attention to legislation to make changes to bear hunting in Maine that may have wider support.

Apparently the lesson activists took from the failure of the referendum is that it was overly broad. Exit polls showed that many people who supported a ban on trapping of bears, for example, voted against the referendum because they nonetheless support bear baiting.

A number of bills being proposed by Maine’s legislature will narrow that focus to banning the use of leg-hold traps to trap bears. According to the Environmental News Network, Maine is the only state in the country that still allows leg-hold trapping of bears.

One the other hand, these bills might not be quite what activists expect. Green Party Rep. John Seder, for example, is working on a compromise bill with Democrat Rep. Thomas Watson that would ban leg-hold traps, but expand night and Sunday hunting — something that hunting groups in Maine want.

The Humane Society of the United States generous support for the referendum is also drawing legislative reaction. At least one proposed bill would limit the amount of money groups in Maine could accept from out-of-state groups such as HSUS.

Another bill would make it harder to put referendums on the ballot by requiring groups to obtain a certain level of signatures from every county rather in addition to a certain number statewide. The referendum to ban bear baiting was put on the ballot by signatures that were disproportionately collected in urban rather than rural areas of Maine.


Bear hunting debate shifts to outlawing traps. Environmental News Network, January 28, 2005.